In prove-it moment for the extreme right, Zaletel recall falls on its face

Save Anchorage comes up far short in its prove-it moment, the Legislature stumbles to its logical, pointless conclusion while Republicans turn on their own and the reading list.

Good evening, Alaska!

It’s been a while. Thanks for sticking around while I turned what I had been planning on being a working vacation into a regular ol’ vacation. It was needed more than I really knew and am grateful to be in a position where I get some time away from it all. Now I’ve just gotta knock the writing rust off.

In this edition: Save Anchorage comes up far short in its prove-it moment, the Legislature stumbles to its logical, pointless conclusion while Republicans turn on their own and the reading list.

The prove-it moment for Save Anchorage

One of the common refrains we heard during the two weeks of deeply disturbing and ugly testimony aimed at the Anchorage Assembly over the mask mandate was that there would be consequences at the polls. It was part of the group’s narrative that they—with their Stars of David, their refusal to tolerate a minor inconvenience for the common good and their harassment of health care workers—were more representative of the Real Voters than moderate/progressive core of the Anchorage Assembly… that were, last I checked, put there by the voters. JUST YOU WAIT AND SEE, they yelled as they brandished Recall Meg signs and worse. In the face of the threats that grimly extended well beyond the ballot box and a fair bit of hand-wringing from folks who’d otherwise support them, the Anchorage Assembly’s core of nine moderates and progressive members pushed ahead with trust in the science and the wave of written testimony from people who supported the measure but didn’t want to attend what Travis Neff called “a plagued arena of science-denying bullies.”

With the passage of the mask mandate would the day of reckoning come?

Well, no. Not at all. Not even close.

With most votes counted in Tuesday’s recall targeting Assemblymember and lead writer of the mask mandate Meg Zaletel—pushed by an eye-wateringly expensive campaign borne out of extreme-right circles—has failed by a roughly 20-point margin. There are still some straggler votes to be counted, but something wild would have to happen for it to close the gap.

According to the latest count from this afternoon, the recall is failing by about 20 percentage points. With 10,617 votes counted, 6,348 voters in District 4 voted against the recall (59.96%) and 4,239 voters supported the recall (40.04%).

Called by many a proxy fight in the larger battle between the city’s extreme right and, well, everyone else, this was a prove-it moment for a movement that has been desperate to appear larger and more influential than the bounds of the private Save Anchorage Facebook group and the yelling in the Anchorage Assembly chambers. Several key backers of Mayor Dave Bronson spent and spent big on this race. More than $140,000 was raised and spent across the several supporting groups (about $130,000 on the oppose side), which is just a ludicrous amount for local race of pretty much any kind. (Though, as many have pointed out, some of those $5,000 checks were more likely an attempt to curry favor with Bronson than an earnest attempt at influencing the race.)

And where did it get them?

Losing by 20 points. The 20-point margin is wider than the last recall effort stood up against Felix Rivera by the denizens of the extreme-right Save Anchorage Facebook group earlier this year (about 13 points) where the total spending was under $50,000.

The extreme right is loud, is angry and is frequently intimidating, but they’re not a majority. Not by a long shot.

In the big picture: It’s certainly interesting to try to draw out a bunch of threads from a single vote held on a late-October Tuesday, it’s important to keep in mind that a recall is always going to face an uphill challenge in large part because there’s no opponent (even if they had won, it would have left the eight remaining progressives/moderates to pick a fill-in until the next elections). I would be wary about using this race to predict the outcome of the spring’s assembly races, especially when it comes to any race that’s not in District 4 with these voters. It’s not a reason to rest easy with future elections, but a reminder that concerted campaigns are important.

The not-so-special session trudges to its logical, pointless conclusion.

You know, I started out my trip worrying about missing something with the special session. Then I remembered the previous three.

From the get-go, there was little hope that the fourth special session of the year would produce any meaningful progress to resolve the state’s fiscal woes and with less than a week left on the clock it seems to have played out just as expected.

Save for a handful of hearings by the underappreciated House Ways and Means Committee, the session has produced nothing except for wearing out what little patience there was left, running up the per diem payments and driving a wedge between the already-related-in-name-only moderate and far-right Republicans.

Privately, several Republicans have complained that Gov. Mike Dunleavy has done nothing but confuse the issue of the state’s financial woes with his singular focus on the dividend (see also: his reelection chances) and in doing so is driving legislators further apart on any potential solution, which was ostensibly the goal of the special session in the first place. His refusal to stand by any meaningful new revenue is the biggest source of heartburn for folks looking for an all-in resolution, which seems to be slipping farther and farther out of reach with his continued fiscal fantasy that no significant changes are needed to put a large PFD in the state’s budget.

While the House Ways and Means Committee has considered plans that would balance the books with the taxes needed to help pay out larger dividends without deep, unrealistic cuts (the sort of concrete steps you’d need to take to reach a resolution), it hasn’t stopped many of Dunleavy’s allies from clinging to the fiscal fantasy that large dividends can be paid out painlessly—a point that the governor has continued to reinforce with a state-funded “informational” campaign—and ignoring the hard work that it would take to reach that conclusion.

Instead, you have maneuvers like the one put forward by a group of six Republican senators who, according to a report by Alaska Public Media, are demanding that the Senate Finance Committee give up on the legislative process and just advance forward the supplemental PFD that Dunleavy has been promising everyone.

“We saw a window of opportunity beginning to slam shut,” Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes said of the letter signed by fellow True Conservatives Mia Costello, Roger Holland, Robert Myers, Lora Reinbold and Mike Shower. “And we felt like maybe we could pry it open.”

The letter on its own is not all that surprising. This is a crew that has been consistent in its insistence that a big PFD is easy, but it’s still quite remarkable to have the Senate Majority Leader in Hughes and the Senate Majority Whip in Costello whining about a process that they are quite literally supposed to be in control of. While pointing to the Senate’s refusal to move the bills through the normal process may play well on Facebook, it doesn’t do anything to actually advance a deal or ease already high tensions.

And this increasingly sour infighting—which has been marked with public accusations of some members being RINOs (Republicans in name only) or not True Conservatives—seems to be the only significant outcome of this special session that a Republican governor has called. Interesting play heading into an election year, huh?

It’s left several wondering whether Dunleavy is intentionally throwing a wrench in things in service of his own reelection bid—akin to former President Trump’s insistence that “I alone can fix it”—or all of this is simply continuing down the bumbling path that has largely defined an ineffectual term in the Senate and middling, even by conservative standards, time as governor. Is he playing 4D chess or is he just living to get through the day?

Folks seem to generally think the latter.

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