ANCHORAGE – Monday, a group of current and newly-elected lawmakers sent a letter to Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy requesting him to reconsider his mandate to have possibly over 800 non-political at-will state employees submit letters of resignation and reapply through a non-state hosted website if they want to keep their jobs and work for the new administration’s political agenda. Among those in the group that signed the letter were Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage), Senator Donny Olson (D-Golovin), Senator-elect Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage), Senator-elect Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau), Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage), Representative David Guttenberg (D-Fairbanks), Representative Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks), and Representative Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage).
“The core functions of most of these employees are not political. They are a specialized workforce, and it is ill-advised to unilaterally politicize their service to the State of Alaska,” said Sen. Wielechowski. “This decision and the process they have chosen to execute it has raised several legal issues, and we call on Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy to rescind his request to the hundreds of non-political at-will state employees who dedicate their service to our state.”
It is common for a new administration to ask for department heads and other political appointees to resign to focus on promoting a new policy agenda which was campaigned on. It is unprecedented that it has trickled down to now include medical doctors, petroleum geologists, research analysts, state prosecutors, military & veteran affairs coordinators, and many more non-political positions.
“Some argue that government should run more like a private business, but I can guarantee no private business conducts itself like this nor deflates the morale of their workforce in a similar manner,” said Senator-elect Gray-Jackson. “Leaders should find ways to boost morale and productivity and bring employees along in their journey, not toss them aside because they do not share the same personal political agenda.”
In the letter, lawmakers point out that such a request potentially impacts public employees’ First Amendment rights. Governor-elect Dunleavy has not defined his criteria for what at-will state employees will have to meet to retain their positions. Asking “Do you want to work on this agenda, do you want to work in this administration,” Tuckerman Babcock, the Governor-elect’s chief-of-staff and chair of his transition team has stated that employees will have to submit a letter of resignation and reapply, giving an affirmative statement of desire.
“It’s troubling that Governor-elect Dunleavy would cause upheaval to our highly qualified and hard-working state employees as the first act of his administration,” said Representative Kawasaki. “We do not know how the incoming administration will determine to rehire these valuable state employees. We should be appreciating their work and dedicated service to this state, not telling them they are easily replaceable, especially if they do not fall in line with the Governor-elect’s politics.”
The lawmakers also point out that Governor-elect Dunleavy has asked that the resignations be submitted to a state-issued email address, but would have to reapply through a private website. Under such a move, questions remain on the transparency of the process, whether the information is accessible through a Freedom of Information Act request, and how the information provided will be used for any purposes other than to assess employee rehire.
“Our Constitution matters. It’s clear you can’t legally fire or replace workers based on their politics. Mr. Babcock should calm fears by making it clear they will not do that,” said Representative Gara.