Local Recall Dunleavy volunteer Stephen Courtright (podium, at left) challenges 20 tables to raise the equivalent of at least one PFD ($1,600) to support the effort. Carried away by the friendly competition, participants raised half-again as much. The event was held just a day after the governor attended the Trooper Academy graduation ceremonies in Sitka. (Tory O’Connell photo)

Barely 24-hours after Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy visited Sitka this month (11-15-19), local residents raised over $45,000 to remove him from office.
Although the timing of the Sitka event in support of the statewide “Recall Dunleavy” campaign was coincidental, it was so successful that organizers plan to use it as a model in other communities.

Sitkan Beth Short-Rhoads says it’s possible to have a good time, while accomplishing something very serious.

“That was way more fun than I thought it was going to be,” said Short-Rhoads, who co-organized the event with Sue Litman. The two hoped that 20 tables could raise the equivalent of one Permanent Fund Dividend–  $1,600 — per table, or $32,000. They did that, and half again more.

Short-Rhoads says no one dwelled too much on negativity, or the governor’s vetoes. While that was critical a great night, the secret sauce might have been the sauce.

“Reneé at BEAK Restaurant did rockfish shepherd’s pies,” Short-Rhoads said. “The rockfish was donated by a local longliner. And she did a really nice salad, and we had volunteers make bread, and a bunch of people bringing pies for dessert.”

All told, the event on Saturday, November 16, raised $45,800 for the Recall Dunleavy Campaign.

“We have modest fundraising goals, but we know that we’re going against deep pockets,” said Meda DeWitt, the statewide chair of the Recall Dunleavy campaign.

DeWitt knows that the governor is going to rely on some of the wealthy funders who helped him win office in 2018: His brother, Texas financier Francis Dunleavy, and sport fish advocate Bob Penney together accounted for over $700,000 in contributions to the “independent expenditure” group Dunleavy for Alaska.

DeWitt says that Recall Dunleavy is focusing its efforts on community, and trying to heal divisions that she believes Dunleavy’s policies have created in the state.

A Tlingit originally from Klawock, DeWitt is a traditional healer and expert in plant-based medicines. She consults all over the state. While advocacy for health care has taken her into politics before, she never saw herself spearheading a campaign to recall Alaska’s governor.

“I don’t usually get this heavily involved,” DeWitt said, “but Dunleavy’s policies show direct effects. The outcomes will mean death, in some cases, by shutting down shelters and not having adequate needs for our vulnerable like seniors, and people in the Pioneer Homes, and reduces access to Medicaid.”

Short-Rhoads’ main concern has been Dunleavy’s proposed education cuts. She was incensed by his statement following an Alaska Superior Court ruling on November 8 that ordered the release of some education funding over his objections. He wrote, “I dedicated a career as a public school teacher in Alaska. I view education as the cornerstone to any society and to individual futures.”

“It’s offensive,” said Short-Rhoads. “It feels like complete disregard for the work that we put into education in this state, and all of the work that Alaskans put in testifying in defense of education.”

Short-Rhoads added that the governor may be assuming that Alaskans are “going to forget everything that he said and did last winter.”

The governor’s office has not yet responded to requests for comment on this story.

Prior to the Sitka event, the Recall Dunleavy campaign had about 1,900 donors — all but six of them individual contributors.

Campaign chair Meda Dewitt says that one Republican couple has even donated $25,000. The pace of the initial petition campaign in September was record-breaking, when volunteers turned in over 49,000 signatures.

She says campaign volunteers were “beaming” over the success in Sitka, and hope to see it carry forward across the state.

“The whole recall movement, every step of the way, we’ve been making history,” said DeWitt. “And I think that Sitka’s participation in that fundraiser continues to demonstrate absolutely how committed Alaskans are to the recall.”

DeWitt says the money raised in local events will go toward collecting the 71,252 signatures needed to bring the recall to a vote of the people — and pay legal fees. On November 4, Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson rejected the recall petition, prompting a legal challenge. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled in January. Recall organizers hope to win certification and see the issue on the statewide primary election ballot next August.