Recall Dunleavy campaign volunteer Brad Rider (at right, holding clipboard) with Pelican residents in late February. Rider flew his plane in from Juneau and landed on the beach. (Photo provided by Brad Rider)

The Recall Dunleavy campaign is rushing to gather enough signatures to put the governor’s political fate on the ballot, potentially as soon as this summer. Reaching voters in isolated communities is difficult, and some people haven’t been able to sign. But the challenge of reaching Alaskans all over the state has also led to some creative solutions. 

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Pelican doesn’t have an airstrip. But at low tide there’s plenty of room to land a bush plane on the beach. So, on February 29th, Brad Rider touched down in the sand in his Piper Supercub. He brought apples, oranges, and an official signature-gathering booklet for the Recall Dunleavy campaign.   

“So it just worked out well, low tide in the middle of the day I could land on the beach,” he said. “Gathered up what people I could in town, most everybody  that we talked to signed the thing.”      

The fresh fruit wasn’t strictly related to the recall campaign, but it did have some connection — Governor Mike Dunleavy’s cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway have left Pelican without ferries since the fall, making it harder to stock fresh produce. 

“Yeah that was just kind of an afterthought,” he said, laughing. “I just kind of assumed that they hadn’t probably had any fresh fruit for a little while.”   

Unlike the first round of signature collecting last summer, this time, recall petitions must be signed in the presence of a certified volunteer to witness each signature. These requirements make it challenging to reach voters in remote towns like Pelican. 

Rider, a recall campaign volunteer and private pilot who lives in Juneau, says he decided to fly to Pelican when he heard they didn’t have any in-town signing events. 

“I am just trying to do my part to help as much as I can,” Rider said.

Rider stayed for a couple hours, long enough to collect 24 signatures, then took off for Juneau before the tide came back in. 

On its website, the recall campaign currently lists dozens of petition-signing events in 34 towns across the state, from Ketchikan in the far south to Utqiagvik on the Arctic Ocean. That doesn’t include impromptu efforts like the Pelican fly-in. 

Also missing from that list is Port Alexander, a town of fifty or so residents on the southern tip of Baranof Island. Peter Mooney, who lives in PA, found that frustrating. 

 “There’s a lot of small villages that may only have five or ten votes, but five or ten votes might make a big difference on reaching our goal,” Mooney said.  

Mooney, who is currently travelling in Mexico, said he tried to sign the petition in Sitka on his way out of the country. Even though several groups and businesses have hosted signing events here, the hours didn’t line up for him. 

“You had to be at a certain place between 3:30 and 5:30 or something like that,” he said.

For now, the recall effort will have to continue without his signature. 

Campaign chair Meda DeWitt says the group can provide petition booklets, train volunteers to collect signatures, and help with publicity, but is working with a small budget. 

“And so sometimes people get frustrated with me because it’s not promoted heavily, like normal campaigns,” DeWitt said. “But normal campaigns usually have a lot of money, which we don’t have. So it’s usually through word-of-mouth.”   

Still, DeWitt says they are making the most of limited resources, relying on a statewide network of volunteers to gather signatures in their own towns . 

“We got enough booklets that if a person from each community wanted a booklet, we could send one,” she said.

The campaign says it had gathered 21,678 signatures as of March 9th. They’ll need a total of 71,252 to put the question in front of voters.  

For his part, pilot and recall volunteer Brad Rider is planning another signature-gathering flight, this time to Hoonah. He said he’d be happy to fly to other communities as well, provided there’s enough beach to accommodate a small airplane.