We tend to define modern U.S. politics as polarized noncompliance. But, in truth, politics is the art of negotiation. Especially campaign politics. Even more especially underdog campaign politics. And in the non-Parnell wing of gubernatorial politics in Alaska this year, the cast of characters from which candidates are trying to garner support from is incredibly tiny. Democratic challenger Byron Mallott and Republican Bill Walker, running as an independent, are immersed in a manic game of capture the flag.
The most frustrating thing about campaign negotiations generally winds up being the people one must negotiate with; how Walker or Mallott must piece together the piles of actors — who often do not care for one another — into a cohesive, supportive base. Think of it like planning the seating chart at a wedding.
Make sure to put a few tables between the NEA folks and Mayor Sullivan. Maybe put the voucher people with the mayor. They get along. Find them a nice table in a distant corner.
Put the NAACP contingent with the NEA folks, as they’ll likely wish to avoid the mayor as well. Make sure the greenies are across the room from the oilies, as failure to do so will surely result in someone getting handcuffed to something or someone. Keep Joe Miller out of the building (more potential handcuff issues). And — hmm? — how many tables did the Koch brothers buy? And, good Lord, who invited the Alaskan Independence Party?!
That last question has a lot of people scratching their heads, after Bill Walker took to facebook on Wednesday to announce an endorsement from AIP.
“His devotion to the principle of ‘equal footing’ with the other states, his willingness to accept responsibility to hold the federal government within its Constitutional limits, and his devotion to our personal liberties, all combine nicely with the fact that as an independent he has removed himself from the corrupt two-party system,” AIP Party Chair Lynette Clark wrote in a press release announcing the endorsement.
As cozy as those ideals sound, they come with baggage. Some of it fair, much of it misunderstood — all of it now thrown atop the shoulders of Bill Walker.
The Changing Face of AIP.
The Alaskan Independence Party is a web of complicated. The average voter’s understanding of the party tends to start at secession and end at Todd Palin, but obviously, there’s a bit more to it — extending back to Alaska’s territorial days, when AIP was launched with the goal of enabling Alaskans the right to vote on the question of statehood.
When AIP formed as a political party in 1973, however, the messaging was very different. Founder Joe Vogler — perhaps the most fascinating and verbose political figure in state history — thought that Alaska’s induction into the union in 1959 was “illegal and in violation of the United Nations charter and international law.” That may have been the nicest thing he ever said about the federal government.
“The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government and I won’t be buried under their damn flag,” Vogler once said in an interview. “I’ll be buried in Dawson. And when Alaska is an independent nation, they can bring my bones home, back to my country.”
Vogler was murdered during an illegal sale of plastic explosives that went horribly wrong. His body was found in a gravel pit east of Fairbanks a year and a half later, in 1994.
Vogler and the AIP emerged, quite heavily, in national headlines during the 2008 presidential campaign. While touring the country as John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin addressed packed halls, linking then-Senator Obama to Bill Ayers and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, fanning the “pallin’ around with terrorists” mantra that did such wonders for our politics. As a response, many pointed to Todd Palin, who was a registered AIP member from 1995-2002, and to Palin’s many appearances at AIP party conventions.
Gov. Palin spoke at the 1994 AIP convention where the party “called for a draft constitution to secede from the United States and create an independent nation of Alaska,” and attended the party’s conventions in 2000, 2006 (when she gave the keynote address), and recorded a video greeting in 2008 as governor.
During the 90’s, AIP deviated from its secessionist framework (though, as the 1994 convention highlights, not completely). When Wally Hickel was elected Governor on the Independence Party ticket in 1990, the party shifted instead toward Hickel’s (and Hammond before him) “Owner-State” model, which is precisely the campaign that Walker is now running. The populist notion of state ownership of resources, which are constitutionally mandated to be developed for the “maximum use” of all Alaskans, is every plank of Walker’s platform. Thus, the AIP backing is consistent and justifiable according to that element of AIP’s history.
Unfortunately, as noted by Vogler’s extreme views (“extreme” is subjective, depending on who you end up talking to late at night at a dive bar), Hickel’s AIP brand was a temporary deviation, not the norm. His influence still remains in today’s party platform, but so does Vogler’s. And so does the current makeup of the AIP, which unsurprisingly now exudes much of the views espoused by the tea party, and other groups to their right. There are a healthy number of populist holdovers from Hickel’s tenure, still bedrock in AIP’s party platform, that coincide with Walker’s stated beliefs: adherence to the state and federal constitutions, defending states’ rights, protecting individual rights, supporting local hire, and maintaining state ownership of sub-surface rights among them. But there are a whole lot more.
AIP also advocates for a more theocratic government, stressing the need to “reinforce the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator to Alaska law.” That religious government tradition should be privatized as much as possible, too. And we need to figure out a new way to pay for it. The party calls for “a constitutional amendment abolishing and prohibiting all property taxes.” Meaning we’re going to have to legalize a whole lot of pot if we want to keep the lights on.
Vogler once said that he’d “rather be tried in a whorehouse with a madam as a judge,” than recognize the U.S. Supreme Court. “There’s more justice.” AIP continues to agree, listing the desire to “prohibit all bureaucratic regulations and judicial rulings purporting to have the effect of law, except that which shall be approved by the elected [state] legislature.” And the judges, magistrates, and attorneys general will all be elected by popular vote. Because what the courts really need are more politics.
Byron Mallott’s campaign manager, Mary Halloran, told me that they welcomed AIP’s endorsement of Walker. “We do wonder, however, whether Mr. Walker agrees with AIP’s goal of a public vote on whether Alaska should become a ‘separate and Independent Nation,’ go back to being a territory, accept Commonwealth status, or be a State.”
“Republicans Bill Walker and Sean Parnell both present themselves as conservatives who oppose abortion rights and equality for gays and lesbians. Yet with Parnell’s reckless fiscal mis-management and billion dollar budget deficits, it isn’t a surprise that the far-right AIP would endorse Walker,” Zack Fields, communications director of the Alaska Democratic Party, added.
Walker is not running on the AIP ticket, and that needs to be made very, very clear. He has not endorsed their party platform, but did warmly receive the nod: “I am pleased to have their unsolicited endorsement of my campaign for governor,” Walker said today (with a suspected emphasis on “unsolicited”). “Their endorsement further demonstrates that my Alaska-first message resonates across Alaska and party lines.”
There are a lot of areas of agreement between the two camps, but first impressions are hard to forget, and the AIP left a pretty big one — used effectively in 2008 in a way that makes any relationship between Walker and the party a tough sell to the moderate Democrats and independents he needs to pull from Mallott.
New Public Policy Polling data released this week shows Parnell with waning support, polling at an all-time-low 37 percent. However, with Mallott polling at 27 percent and Walker trailing with 17 percent, the low approval rating could still easily translate to a double-digit win for the incumbent, given the three way race. It’s hard to see where a controversial endorsement from a group that did Palin no favors in 2008 is going to serve as any sort of game changer in this year’s gubernatorial race. Where would one even seat them?