John Binkley poses for a photo on Juneau’s downtown waterfront on Sept. 9, 2019. His family owns a stake in Wings Airways which offers floatplane sightseeing trips. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has a new ally in the recall fight: Alaska businessman John Binkley. The former Republican legislator and cruise industry frontman says he’s forming an action group to help the governor keep his job.

John Binkley has worn a lot of hats. Stints in the legislature, a primary challenge to Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2006 and more recently the face of the cruise industry in Alaska.

He stepped away from that role last year to concentrate on redeveloping Ward Cove’s former pulp mill into a megadock for cruise ships. And for that he spends most of his time in Ketchikan. But he’s also wading into the biggest political fight in the state: defending Gov. Mike Dunleavy from being recalled. He says he understands why many have turned against the governor. But he says Gov. Dunleavy should be allowed to finish his term. 

“The governor has grown, I think, he has learned — as evidenced by the budget that he presented and the approach that he’s taking this year versus last year,” Binkley said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Here in coastal Alaska, the Alaska Marine Highway System has been at a virtual standstill from mechanical failures following cost-cutting. Anger has been directed at the governor for his austere budget. But Binkley says it’s not all Dunleavy’s fault.

“That’s the result of decades of neglect by many administrations over time — of not keeping the ferries upgraded to the point that they should be,” he said.

Nor is it the point. Unpopular policies are what general elections are for, Binkley said. He said the Alaska Constitution is very specific on how and why a governor should be recalled.

“I’m concerned that we’re headed down a path that may lead to a lot of divisiveness and won’t allow the state to move forward,” he said.

The Recall Dunleavy  petition lists four alleged violations of state law and the Alaska constitution as grounds for recall. The state’s Division of Elections has challenged these grounds. It’ll be up to the Alaska Supreme Court to decide.

“Whatever they decide, I’ll live with that,” he said.

In other words, Binkley’s argument will be to the people, He said he’s planning on an ad buy on television, radio and print to make the case that Dunleavy hasn’t done anything to justify a special election. 

“To me, it needs to rise to a much higher level of corruption, of misdealing, of things that really are egregious,” he said.

Binkley’s family is a player in Alaska’s media landscape. His son Ryan helped buy the Anchorage Daily News in 2017. He’s now CEO of the state’s largest newspaper and has a seat on the editorial board. 

The elder Binkley said his son won’t be involved in the political fight. And the newspaper has said it maintains a firewall between its owners and the news operation. The ADN’s editorials have argued against recalling the governor. He says he’ll push for that line to continue.

“If I have anything to say, and my son agrees with me — he’s one of several on the opinion board — then they’ll write an opinion that’s specific to the opinion page,” Binkley said.

He says he’s planning to raise funds from like-minded Alaskans and draw from his own fortune to defend the Republican incumbent governor. But right now, he’s in the early stages of organizing his new anti-recall group. In fact, he says he hasn’t even settled on a name.