For the first time, an Alaska Native regional corporation has announced its support for the recall of a state governor.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy had come under harsh criticism for vetoes of $444 million and other actions Alaska Natives have said unfairly target education, the young, the elderly, and rural regions, which are predominantly Alaska Native.
In a prepared statement issued Aug. 8, the board of directors of the Native for-profit Cook Inlet Region, Inc., or CIRI, said the recall is “necessary to protect the health, education and well-being of our shareholders and all Alaskans."
A week earlier, on Aug. 1, a diverse group of Alaskans launched the recall petition. Co-chairs are 95-year-old Vic Fischer, and the last surviving delegate to the state Constitutional Convention; former Republican lawmaker Arliss Sturgelewski; and a former Dunleavy supporter, Joseph Usibelli of Usibelli Coal Company. Organizers say they collected 10,000 signatures on the first day of the campaign alone. They need 28,501 to get the petition certified. Then another 71,252 signatures would be needed to put the issue before voters.
In its statement, CIRI echoed charges laid out in the recall petition that the governor “has repeatedly violated Alaska law and the state constitution, and …demonstrated his unfitness for office.”
The governor’s “…actions are harming all Alaskans and threatening the state’s business environment,” said CIRI. “In July, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Alaska’s outlook from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’ and downgraded the University of Alaska system three notches, making it the second lowest-rated flagship university in the U.S. Both of these actions from a third-party professional organization are concerning to the Board.”
Alaska Native leaders have protested the end of or serious cuts to several state-funded programs, including Headstart, Medicaid, cash benefits for low-income seniors, performance-based scholarships, and subsidies for high energy costs in rural Alaska. State budget cuts also mean hundreds of millions of federal dollars will disappear. The University of Alaska system took the biggest hit, the loss of a staggering 41 percent of its budget that is expected to disproportionately hurt rural campuses and programs.
The CIRI board said it’s unusual for the Native corporation to "wade into political waters” but it would be “irresponsible to sit idly by while Alaska is plunged into an avoidable fiscal and social crisis."
The recall group charges Dunleavy with violating the state constitution, neglect of duties, incompetence and unfitness, for the following actions: failure to appoint a judge within the prescribed time limit; misuse of state funds to pay for electronic ads and direct mailers making partisan statements about political opponents and supporters; violating separation of powers by using a budget veto to retaliate against the courts for an abortion decision with which he didn’t agree; and preventing the Legislature from upholding its responsibilities for education and public health and welfare.
CIRI was created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which transferred title to land and a billion dollars to 12 regional for-profit corporations. the largest landowner in Southcentral Alaska, the traditional homelands of the Dena’ina Athabascan people. The corporation has 8,880 shareholders.
Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a longtime Alaska journalist.