Alaska State Capitol

Alaska State Capitol

Opinion: Political virtue, hypocrisy and nihilism

No one can claim to revere Alaska’s Constitution by picking and choosing which sections matter.

  • Saturday, July 24, 2021 2:30am
  • Opinion

By Rich Moniak

Gov. Mike Dunleavy was angry last Friday. He said the Alaska Supreme Court’s opinion on the case to recall him “creates a standardless recall process, subjecting elected officials at every level, and across the political spectrum, to baseless, expensive, and distracting recall elections by their political opponents.”

That’s not a defense against the accusations in the recall petition. And pairing the one regarding the appointment of judges with his recent disregard for the Alaska Constitution is an example of pure ethical nihilism.

The Supreme Court opinion wasn’t big news because it had previously ruled that the first recall petition must be certified. The opinion, however, wasn’t published until this month.

Dunleavy’s statement echoes the dissent of Justice Craig Stowers, who has since retired. He wrote that the court’s majority opinion “opens the door to standardless recall petitions” which going forward “will be used not to actually seek to recall an elected official for cause, but instead to seek to recall an elected official because of disagreements over policy.”

However, his dissent was limited to the two allegations involving the governor’s veto power. On the other two, there was unanimous agreement that it should be up to the voters to decide whether Dunleavy knowingly neglected his duties, acted incompetently, or exhibited “deficiencies of character” that show he’s morally unfit to hold office.

[High court finds recall complaints satisfy legal requirements]

The first of those point out Dunleavy violated state law in March 2019 by “refusing to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days of receiving nominations.”

In accordance with the state Constitution, the Judicial Council provided him with a slate of candidates to make the appointment. The day before the deadline, he requested names of additional candidates. Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger explained to him that the Constitution gave the governor no power in the nomination process. So Dunleavy chose a judge from the slate he was given. But not until a week after the deadline had passed.

In Dunleavy’s defense, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson argued there was no evidence “the governor did not understand his duty to appoint by the deadline” and his failure to do so only resulted in “a harmless act with no lasting impact.”

Trivializing the infraction is an admission of guilt. And the Court ruled it’s up to the people being asked to sign a petition to judge if it’s “serious enough to warrant a recall election.” Similarly, if the recall is put to the voters, it’s up to them to decide if it’s “serious enough to warrant removal from office.”

Three weeks ago, Dunleavy added evidence supporting the allegation by again asking Judicial Council for a new slate of candidates to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Bolger’s retirement.

Remember, this is a governor insisting Alaskans enshrine in constitutional amendments the disbursement formula for the Permanent Fund Dividend, a spending cap, and the government’s authority to raise taxes. That makes his brazen disrespect for the constitutionally defined judicial nominating process worse than the common political hypocrisy we’ve sadly become accustomed to witnessing.

Hypocrisy “in the public square,” Jonathan V. Last at the Bulwark argues, is “a sign that the culture still has ideals and norms which people are ashamed to violate in public.”

Last didn’t see that in September when Senate Republicans were rationalizing why it was fine to vote on a U.S. Supreme Court nominee during an election year. Four years earlier they argued the opposite when the nomination was made by a Democratic President. (In both cases, Sen. Lisa Murkowski was a notable exception.)

“Of course it would be better if these people were actually virtuous” Last wrote. “But if they’re not going to live their lives honorably, it’s better that they at least pretend that honorable behavior is a good.”

In 2019, Dunleavy said his meeting with Bolger “was both productive and fruitful, and provided important clarification” about the process. This month, he exhibited no shame disregarding the constitutional advice he had pretended to honor.

No one can claim to revere Alaska’s Constitution by picking and choosing which sections matter. They all do. Dunleavy swore to support and defend every letter of it. And his nihilistic challenge to the power it grants to the judicial council displayed a moral deficiency that warrants his removal from office.


• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.


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