Recall Effort for Alaska Governor Collects Two-Thirds of Necessary Signatures in a Single Week

The governor's mansion in Juneau, Alaska.

The governor's mansion in Juneau, Alaska. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Move over laws in Illinois and Oklahoma … Indiana town installs “turtle crossing” signs … Trump administration reauthorized “cyanide bombs” for pests.

Following a tumultuous past few months of budget debates and vetoes, a recall effort to end the term of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has garnered over 18,000 signatures in a single week, over two-thirds of what is needed in the initial round of a recall campaign in the state. Critics of the governor also raised over $25,000 from 270 people in the same week. “It’s fair to say that Alaska has never seen anything quite like this,” said Scott Kendall, an attorney for Recall Dunleavy and the former chief of staff to previous Gov. Bill Walker. Most of the complaints about Dunleavy’s leadership stem from his decision to veto $444 million from the state’s operating budget, much of which came from higher education and public services. The grounds-for-recall statement lists includes “neglect of duties, incompetence, and lack of fitness.” Matt Shuckerow, a spokesperson for Dunleavy, a Republican, said the cuts were necessary. “While some will focus on political gamesmanship, Gov. Dunleavy’s administration is focused on empowering Alaskans through the agenda he ran on, including addressing Alaska’s unsustainable budget, improving public safety, growing the economy, [and] fighting for pro-business policies,” he said. The recall committee board includes a former Republican state senator from Anchorage, the last surviving delegate to help create the Alaska Constitution, and Joseph Usibelli, chairman of Usibelli Coal Mine. “Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s sudden, severe, and sometimes illegal budget cuts have caused tremendous harm to Alaska and Alaskans. His brief time as governor has brought us an atmosphere of fear and distress, as people worry about whether they will be able to care for special-needs children or whether they will lose their jobs, their homes, and their ability to live in Alaska. We cannot allow a governor who doesn’t understand the concept of separation of powers to remain in power,” Usibelli said. The recall campaign has now garnered support from one of the state’s largest Native tribes, which in Alaska are organized as corporations. Cook Inlet Region Inc. sent a message to its 8,800 members saying the recall is necessary “to protect the health, education and well-being of our shareholders and all Alaskans.” The recall campaign needs about 10,000 more signatures to reach the threshold of 10% of voters in the last general election. Then, if the petition is certified, the organizers must collect a second round of signatures, this time above 71,000, or 25% of the number of voters in the last general election. [Courthouse News; Anchorage Daily News; Seattle Times]

MOVE OVER LAWS | In Illinois, three state troopers have been killed this year while assisting at crash sites on the highway, causing the state to add new provisions to its “move over” law that requires drivers to slow down and shift a lane away from stopped emergency vehicles. “First responders are getting hurt and first responders are getting killed, and they’re just out there doing their job,” said Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly. Under new measures, drivers can now be charged with a misdemeanor for violations of the move over law resulting in damage to another vehicle, or a felony for violations that result in a person being hurt or killed. In Oklahoma, a newly signed move over law goes beyond just emergency vehicles, requiring drivers to slow and shift lanes for any stalled vehicles, in an effort to cut down on highway deaths. "Everybody already has that ingrained that they need to move over for public safety, highway patrol has somebody pulled over, or assisting someone, that they move over, but it's just as important to focus on family members that are changing a tire," said state Sen. Brent Howard, the author of the new law. Joseph Snell, a roadside assistant for AAA, said he is skeptical of such laws, though. "If you can get it out there to the public and let them know there's going to be some consequences if you don't move over, [that might work,] but right now they're still staying in that lane," he said. [CBS 2; OKC FOX

TURTLE CROSSING | A northern Indiana town has installed “turtle crossing” signs along a road after an eight-year-old boy contacted the mayor to tell him about cars running over the small reptiles. Jack Wietbrock wrote to West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis, saying, “Dear Mayor Dennis, There are turtles crossing the road and they need our help. Can you please put up a turtle crossing sign?” His mother, Michelle Wietbrock, said Jack was encouraged to get involved after watching several turtles die. "About the third time it happened, there was a baby with one of them and we helped the baby cross the road. Once I got back in the car, my son said, 'I wonder if we should write a letter to the mayor.' I said, 'OK, sure! We hope it encourages people to make a difference in their own communities,” she said. The mayor then the city’s street maintenance and installation department to create what they believe to be the first “Turtle Xing” signs in the state. "The great thing about West Lafayette is we embrace the unique and, in some cases, the odd. So, we felt, 'You know what, there's something we can do here that's going to be kind of cool and celebrates Jack's initiative on making us aware of a problem,’” Dennis said at the unveiling of one of the signs. [Associated Press; Newsweek; Lafayette Journal Courier]

CYANIDE BOMBS | The Environmental Protection Agency reauthorized government use of a controversial pest control measure known by critics as “cyanide bombs.” They are meant to deal with coyotes and foxes in particular. The bombs are used by Wildlife Services, a federal agency that kills pests for farmers and ranchers, and are comprised of spring-loaded traps that deploy a plume of poisonous gas when triggered. The traps faced criticism in 2017 when a teenage boy was walking with his dog near his house in Idaho and triggered a trap; the smoke cloud killed the dog and sent the boy to the hospital. His parents are suing Wildlife Services, and the agency agreed to halt the use of the traps temporarily in some states. Oregon also banned the traps entirely following the incident. Now, with the reauthorization of cyanide bombs, environmental groups are criticizing the approval process. Brooks Fahy, executive director of the environmental group Predator Defense, called the decision a “complete disaster.” “[The EPA] ignored the facts and they ignored cases that, without a doubt, demonstrate that there is no way [cyanide bombs] can be used safely,” Fahy said. [The Guardian]

SHORTAGE OF LEGISLATIVE WORKERS | The director of Wyoming’s Legislative Service Office, which handles research, bill drafting, and amendment writing for lawmakers, said that the department’s large workload and limited staff is having detrimental effects. Matt Obrecht said that the department has been asked to do more and more work that is often outside the field of expertise of the attorneys staffed there. “Our staff attorneys are not subject matter experts on tax law or, say, environmental law. We’ll be talking about the corporate income tax and won’t have a tax attorney on staff. We’ll have one accountant, and his primary focus is on state finances, not corporate taxes. We do the best we can. We know legislative procedure and try to take complex subject matter from an outside source and try and make it work within the legislative process,” he said. Obrecht said that even if the office received a  50% increase in budget and staff, they would not be able to fully meet demand. [Casper Star-Tribune]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty. 

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