Group starts effort to recall governor

Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2004

A loose-knit group of dissatisfied Alaskans launched a Web-based effort Tuesday to remove Gov. Frank Murkowski and Lt. Gov. Loren Leman from office, hoping eventually to secure enough signatures to put a recall measure on the fall ballot.

John Manly, Gov. Murkowski's press secretary, said the administration had no comment at this time.

However, House Minority Leader Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said recalling a governor in Alaska is not easy, nor should it be.

"My general feeling is that absent criminal behavior or gross incompetence, recall should not occur."

For Ray Metcalf of Anchorage, chair of Alaskans to Recall Murkowski, the governor has exhibited at least some of the criteria warranting recall, which under state law are listed as lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties, or corruption.

"Right now, I would say there are going to be people in support of a recall that have reasons other than my own," Metcalf said Wednesday. "There are a lot of reasons why people are upset. Part of those were about claims (Murkowski) made when he was running for governor that proved not to be true when he got elected."

Metcalf is a former member of the Alaska House who was in office in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He served on the House State Affairs Committee at the time legislation was being drafted that became the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program.

Protection of the fund is one reason Metcalf wants Murkowski recalled.

"Right now, we have a marvelous permanent fund and a treasure trove of natural resources," he said. "If we go the direction the Legislature and the governor are proposing, they will raid the fund, give it away to their friends who keep them in office and we are going to be broke in a few years. In the meantime, they will slap you and me with a big tax."

Metcalf also pointed to recent announcements regarding alternative natural gas pipeline ventures beyond that of the voter-approved Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority.

"We have got a group of Alaskans who have pushed hard to develop an all-Alaska pipeline (from the North Slope) to Valdez," Metcalf said. "That would put more money in the state treasury than any other proposal. The others (alternatives) put more money in the pockets of the oil companies who write the checks to get legislators and the governor elected."

Metcalf ran unsuccessfully for the Alaska House as a Republican Moderate in 2000.

Among those involved in the recall effort on the Kenai Peninsula is Nikiski resident James Price. Price was the main force behind an unsuccessful effort in 2002 to eliminate the Kenai Peninsula Borough's sales tax on unprepared food items. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Alaska House as a Republican Moderate against Republican Rep. Mike Chenault in 2002.

Price said he and others feel let down by the current administration.

"Their promises, particularly those made by Frank Murkowski during the campaign, have basically been ignored during this administration," Price said. "Personally, I'm put off by his taking of the longevity bonus and his clear intention of raiding the permanent fund dividend program by his POMV scheme."

POMV is an acronym for percent of market value, an alternative approach to valuing the fund that would make some of it available for state spending each year, if adopted.

Price said more information on the reasons behind the recall effort can be found on the organization's recall Web site at www.recallmurkowski.com, but he cited "a lack of fitness for office, administrative incompetence and neglect of duties" as general reasons.

"We have laid out clear reasons for that," he said. "With Leman, we have made the same claims."

Among the issues noted on the Web site is Murkowski's apparent stand on oil royalties. In a Sept. 16 letter to Sen. Pete Domenici, Murkowski gave his approval to the idea of lowering the federal government's royalty share of oil revenues under certain circumstances in order to encourage exploration and development, even though that might affect Alaska's royalty share, as well.

The energy bill now pending before Congress takes steps to give the Secretary of the Interior increased discretion over royalty issues, including the power to waive them.

The recall Murkowski movement argues that the Alaska Statehood Act entitles Alaska to 52.5 percent of any royalties the federal government receives from the sale of oil on federal lands within Alaska.

Building a Web site through which to gather signatures is a first in Alaska politics, Metcalf said.

A recall is a two-step process. The first requires collecting voter signatures equaling 10 percent of those who voted in the last election (about 23,149 names) on a petition to be delivered to the lieutenant governor.

That second step requires collecting a new set of signatures, this time equaling 25 percent of the number that voted in the last election, or about 57,872 signatures.

Metcalf said he believes using a Web site able to print out step-one petitions that people can have signed and send directly to Leman's office is on firm legal footing.

"There are no rules that specify how you collect signatures," he said.

As for step two, Metcalf said he anticipates a challenge by the administration, specifically Leman, who must certify signatures and approve the petition campaign. But he said he believes a court would OK the use of the Web for distribution of petitions, saying the state has no compelling reason to force petitioners to stand on street corners to collect signatures.

To acquire the approximately 57,000 signatures required, the effort likely will have to get some 70,000 signers in all, to account for some who will be declared ineligible for one reason or another.

Price said the effort is in need of volunteers. The Web site provides a place to sign up.

"Our purpose is to enable people to do this through volunteer efforts," he said. "We are not funded by any groups or organizations. It is a grass-roots effort."

If the effort is successful, voters will see a recall ballot measure, probably on the November general election ballot.

"I think there is a fair chance that it will catch fire and snowball," Metcalf said. "The revolutionary move is the Web site that allows all Alaskans to participate. It puts it in every village, every town, every city and borough all at the same time."



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