By Ben Kesslen
Aug. 3 was a busy day in Unalaska, the Aleutian Islands town of 4,500 people, 800 miles southwest of Anchorage, that sits between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific.
There was the golf classic, which resident Sharon Svarny-Livingston said is probably the westernmost golf classic in the world, and a potluck for the traditional subsistence camp, which teaches local youth how to use traditional indigenous knowledge and Western science hand-in-hand. Still the 66-year-old decided to add another item to the schedule of this remote town where she says there is always “too much to do”: a drive to gather signatures to recall the state’s governor, Mike Dunleavy.
Dunleavy campaigned on raising the state’s annual oil wealth dividend that each Alaska resident receives annually. Less than a year into his term, however, the governor caused a firestorm when he vetoed 182 line-items from the state budget, totaling more than $440 million — in part to fund the dividend. The cuts slashed $130 million, or 41 percent of state funding, to the University of Alaska system and tens of millions from Medicaid, and significantly reduced senior services and public education funding. They also leave Alaska in the unique position of being the only state without an arts agency.
After the cuts were announced, members of Dunleavy’s own party turned against the Republican governor, and Alaskans worried about what would become of their home. A decimated university, some feared, would cause a brain drain. Others wondered how they would afford health care and education, and people grew concerned about how cuts to homeless shelters and addiction treatment might affect their cities. Republicans and Democrats tried to come together and override some of the vetoes, but they ultimately fell short. So, residents like Svarny-Livingston decided to take matters into their own hands by launching a recall effort.