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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Chosen One, the Unchosen One, and the Recall

TALL TALES from Juneau

Eyes on the Dunleavy Disaster


The unexpected passing of Senator Chris Birch (R-Anchorage) on August 8 left a vacancy in the Alaska State Senate. Literally the next day, one of the Reps in his district, Laddie Shaw (R-Anchorage) was already vying for the seat stating it would be “an honor” to continue the work that Birch began. Only one problem, Shaw and Birch were on opposite sides of “the work.” Birch was an industry guy, and a moderate Republican who showed up in Juneau to do his job during the infamous special session which saw a handful of rogue legislators dub themselves #TeamWasilla and camp out at the Governor’s behest at the Wasilla Middle School where there were snacks and Tea Party flags, waiting for the rest of their colleagues who never came. Birch also put forward the notion of a “reasonable” $900 dividend for what he said was a real balanced budget, and saying that paying out a full PFD while cutting state programs and services to the bone was “the height of big spending.” Most of his colleagues favored the $1600 option, but Birch made it very clear where he stood. He also supported Laddie Shaw’s opponent in the primary. Suffice it to say Birch was not a fan of Shaw’s politics. At ALL.

Laddie Shaw, on the other hand, was right in the thick of #TeamWasilla supporting a full statutory $3000 PFD come hell or high water, and also supporting massive budget cuts to programs and services – in other words in all substantive ways Shaw is a Dunleavy yes-man and the political opposite of Sen. Birch on the substantive issues of the day. So, when Dunleavy chose Shaw to fill Birch’s seat, and said he would be a great pick “for the people of the district,” what he really meant was he’d be a great pick for Dunleavy.  Dunleavy now gets to not only replace Birch with a hand-pick, he’ll also have to replace Shaw in his House district. And he’s already picked Sharon Jackson (R-Eagle River) to replace moderate Republican Nancy Dahlstrom who won the seat and immediately abdicated it when Dunleavy offered her a position as Commissioner of Corrections. See what’s happening here? The legislature, which is teetering on the edge and struggling to find a clear majority, is being reshaped one seat at a time by Dunleavy. He is stacking the deck. Shaw will still need to be confirmed by a vote of the Senate, so we’ll see how that goes.



Another major shakeup happened back on August 22, but we didn’t hear about it until almost 6pm on the Friday of the Labor Day weekend – eight days later. In other words, the administration REEEEALLLY didn’t want you to pay attention to it. And this of course means that we really SHOULD pay attention to it. Tuckerman Babcock “has decided to retire” according to Tuckerman Babcock. He started off as the controversial and caustic Republican Party Chair who made it his mission to oust any Republican who wasn’t ultra-hard right-wing. Anyone willing to work with Democrats was targeted as a RINO (Republican in name only). So when Dunleavy appointed him Chief of Staff, we knew immediately that there was to be no compromise, or kumbaya in Juneau. Babcock’s world is black and white, and he is an ideologue who was the mastermind behind much of the debacle we now see in the Dunleavy administration including the hiring of Donna Arduin as Budget Director. He was demoted a few weeks ago to “Senior Policy Adviser” and Ben Stevens (black sheep son of Ted) was promoted FROM “Senior Policy Adviser” to Chief of Staff. Think of it as a big dysfunctional game of musical chairs. Babcock kept his $160k salary but for some reason decided… wait for it… he “wanted to spend more time with his family.” We wish we could give him points for creativity, but alas…  Who knows where he’ll resurface, but it’s sure to be another disaster. Coincidentally, this happened right around the time the Recall Dunleavy effort really started to show its chops. Dunleavy said that had nothing to do with it.


Sorry seniors, the governor says you’re just too expensive. Public outrage may have restored your small senior benefits, but if you’re in the Pioneer Home you are still out of luck. No, you won’t be cast out into the street like those depending on homeless services have been, but Dunleavy WILL turn you upside down and shake you until you’re penniless – which probably won’t take that long at the rates he’s talking about. Then you can stay. Most folks in the Pioneer Home will see their rates double, and some will increase up to $15,000 per month. But they won’t be forced to go, Dunleavy says. They’re just going to want to. Or have to. Or end up with nothing.



Dunleavy may shake his head and feel super sorry that we can’t afford to take care of our pioneers and veterans, but hey! Guess what we found in our other pants! $$$$$$$$! We do have enough money, it seems, to fund a road – hundreds of miles long, to the Ambler mining district. We’ve already spent a whopping $26 million in “pre-development planning” on the project, and now the administration would like us to fork out a staggering $280-380 million  more (assuming no cost overruns) to put the road in. And get this: The state-funded road would cross Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and other federal public lands but would be closed to the public. But Alaska will be “open for business” according to the governor. We just won’t really benefit much from that business that we subsidized. But thanks to Grandma and Grandpa in the Pioneer Home for pitching in their life savings for the cause. Austerity and responsibility, you know. So why now, and who’s responsible for expediting this 211-mile long publicly-funded private road? Glad you asked…



Joe Balash got his start as Palin’s oil and gas guy, continued on into the Parnell administration, then Sen. Dan Sullivan’s Chief of Staff, and then got whisked away to the Trump administration as the Assistant Interior Secretary for land and minerals. He was the one nice enough to facilitate the approval process for the mining interests at the end of the publicly-funded road, according to Trilogy Metals, Inc. He also had a hand in the opening of the lands in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for development. All this before he abruptly resigned his federal position in the Bureau of Land Management because he said, “an opportunity has come along that I can’t ignore…I’ll have more to say about my next adventure once I have fully separated from the department.” Well he’s fully separated now, so we get to hear all about his next adventure! Sounds exciting! Turns out Mr. Balash will be adventuring in his new position as Senior Vice President for External Affairs for Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, which is developing one of the largest prospects in years… in Alaska! If this sounds a little sketchy to you, you’re in good company. This from the Washington Post:

“Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said in an interview that the fact that Balash had been working to make more land available for exploration near Oil Search’s ongoing development raises concerns. If Balash’s jump to Oil Search ‘ends up being legal, it’s further confirmation to me that our laws are simply inadequate,’ Brian said. ‘It is hard to have confidence that decisions he was making while he was working for the taxpayers were not impacted by his aspirations or hopes to go work for a company that was materially affected by his work.’…Balash said that even though in his new role he would oversee employees who would work with the federal government on energy policy, he would abide by the Trump ethics pledge barring appointees from lobbying their former agencies for five years.

“Trump ethics pledge.” <— I’ll just let that sit right there for your consideration.



Let’s end on a happier note. 28,000 signatures were needed for the application or first phase of the effort to recall Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy. The Recall Dunleavy campaign managed to squeak by with … 49,006 signatures, causing jubilation among those supporting the effort, and stunned silence from the jeering minority who said it couldn’t be done. It was not only done, it was done in just over one month.

If you want a little taste of what it was like, imagine walking down the street on a warm, sunny, smoke-free afternoon, and enjoy some of the music that was playing when I got to the gathering place on the corner of Fireweed and Gambell as you scroll through some pictures. Lead organizers include Meda DeWitt, Erin Jackson, and the last remaining constitutional delegate, Vic Fischer who is 95 years old.

“This is a day I’m proud to be an Alaskan. This has been the most phenomenal outpouring of citizenship that I’ve seen in Alaska since we became a state many years ago. But I’m just the oldest guy standing… But I can tell you this – what we have accomplished, what you have accomplished, what people across the state have done in coming together with one voice, one signature at a time – dozens of signatures – hundreds of signatures, to get rid of this dark cloud that has descended over Alaska. I agreed to spearhead the organization to recall Dunleavy together with Arliss Sturgelewski and Joe Usibelli. We agreed to lend our names and our bodies to the effort because we cannot survive – Alaska cannot survive the kind of administration that we have at this time. And I just want to say that the outpouring that we’ve seen from day one when 10,000 signatures were collected on one day, on August 1… it just has never been done in Alaska, but it’s going to be done again when we get to the next phase of the recall effort, and we’ll win that one, and we’ll have gotten rid of Dunleavy and his wrecking crew. Thank you, each of you, for what you’ve done. Thanks to those in all the cities and all the villages in Alaska who have come together, and I think we will see beginning next year a new Alaska with a new spirit where people care about people.” – Vic Fischer.

The Recall committee has urged the Division of Elections to approve the petition by October 7 or, they said, it “would appear to deny the recall sponsors timely exercise of their constitutional rights.” And speaking of constitutional rights, a crack legal team including Jeff Feldman, Susan Orlansky, Jana Lindemuth, and Scott Kendall are laser-focused on dealing with any snags along the way including delays, stonewalling, and bogus arguments from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, who has an abysmal record of unsuccessful constitutional challenges.

When the petition is certified, it will be time for another round of signature gathering which will require 71,252 signatures – about 25% of the number of voters in the last election. Then the question will appear on a ballot – Should Governor Michael J. Dunleavy be recalled, yes or no?

The answer is simple.



*This article is reposted with permission from the Alaska Democratic Party.



2 Responses to “The Chosen One, the Unchosen One, and the Recall”
  1. Zyxomma says:

    Yes, it’s simple. The choice is quite clear.

  2. Gayla Valle says:

    I really appreciate your coverage and the inclusion of important background information. And I love your passion for justice and the environment.

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