Alaska gubernatorial candidates Bill Walker and Byron Mallott officially announced a unified ticket on Tuesday in a bid to unseat Gov. Sean Parnell (R-Alaska).
In what had the air of a concession speech, Mallott, formerly the Democratic candidate for governor, explained how the two candidates came to an agreement to appear on the same ticket. The campaigns reached an impasse as recently as Friday afternoon, Mallott said, but he continued to consider the possibility of merging them after talks ended.
Mallott said that his campaign was not about him or any individual, but was for the betterment of Alaska, a theme both he and Walker repeated during the event. By Friday evening, Mallott decided that neither he nor Walker could prevail against Parnell in a three-way race for the governor’s mansion. He then called the chair of the Democratic Party and Walker to advise them of his decision.
Mallott said that he could not have agreed to join the Walker ticket if he had not come to trust Walker. Trust was a word Mallott used frequently in relation to Walker, whom he called a friend. The two have agreed to write what Mallott said was not a platform, per se, but rather a “series of understandings” on policy and the future of the state.
In contrast to Mallott’s measured speech tinged with emotion, Walker spoke rapidly. He praised both his former running mate Craig Fleener and the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, Hollis French, who he said “put Alaska’s future ahead of politics” by stepping aside.
While Walker had praise for the former candidates for lieutenant governor and Mallott had effusive praise for Walker, one word kept coming up in conversations among attendees to describe Mallott, both before and after Tuesday’s announcement: courageous.
Prior to the start of the campaign event, a Mallott supporter cut the word “governor” off of a small blue Mallott campaign sign and affixed it to a massive Walker campaign sign on the wall. It was the only Mallott sign to be found amid a variety of Walker signs large and small. Mallott joked that while his campaign and Walker’s had never been far apart in terms of the numbers, it was clear “that guy out-signed me.”
Word emerged Tuesday evening, via Attorney General Michael Geraghty, that Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell would not stand in the way of the unified ticket. Mallott wore a Walker campaign sticker during Tuesday’s announcement, and his campaign website, byronmallot.com, was already listed as available by GoDaddy before the announcement was made.
Mallott will retain his status as a registered Democrat in his bid for lieutenant governor. Walker is changing his party affiliation from Republican to “undeclared.”
During his remarks, Walker said that he has now been endorsed by the Alaskan Independence Party and the Alaska Democratic Party. If elected, he and Mallott will work together as a partnership, said Walker, adding, “Partisan politics will not have a place in our administration.”
Using a sports analogy, Walker compared partisan politics in Alaska to leaving two-thirds of a team’s players on the bench. His administration will bring in great Alaskans from all across Alaska, he said.
“We are in crisis,” said Walker. “Alaska’s broken, and we need to fix Alaska.” Alaskans came together to achieve statehood and to recover from the 1964 earthquake and 1967 floods, he said. With the state on track to run out of money in five years, he said, it is time to come together again.
Walker said he felt compelled to seek the state’s highest office. “I don’t like knowing what I know and not doing something about it,” he said. You wouldn’t drive by someone’s car in a ditch in weather 50 below zero and not stop to help, he said.
During a question and answer session, the campaign seemed to coalesce. Walker’s speech calmed, and Mallott transitioned from the behavior of a defeated gubernatorial candidate to that of a quintessential running mate, fiercely defending Walker.
In response to a question about Alaska Native issues, Walker insisted that these would be a priority for his administration. Mallott, who was endorsed by the Alaska Federation of Natives, said that he had never been uncomfortable with Walker’s answers on these issues.
There were multiple questions about the process of merging the campaigns. Mallott called the decision “agonizing,” but said, “I believe a huge majority who voted for me wanted a better Alaska.” Joining forces did not violate the election process, he insisted. Indeed, there was an intense process within the Democratic Party conducted “openly, candidly, and honestly.” Had the party disagreed, Mallott said he would not have pursued the merger.
Alaskans would see the candidates’ genuine nature during the campaign, Walker added, saying he hoped people would trust them and engage with them. Walker said that he took the top of the ticket because recent polls showed him ahead of Parnell in a head-to-head matchup.
Walker described himself as a conservative, something that would not change regardless of which initial followed his name, referencing his change from being a registered Republican. When asked how he would handle hot button issues like abortion, Walker said he was not running on social issues and would leave laws as they currently stand.
Walker stated his opposition to a voucher program that would allow children to use public money to attend private schools. His goal is to fix the economy, he said. Thus, he wants to operate the public schools we already have.
Predictably, Walker got most animated when the subject of energy came up. He joked that he has “a little background on the gas pipeline.” Tuesday, Walker pushed for a large diameter gas line, also a focus of his failed 2010 bid for governor, which he said would add $419 billion to the state treasury. Further, Alaska must stop what he described as an endless series of energy project studies that never result in a project.
Energy was not the only subject about which Walker offered criticism of the Parnell administration. “We need to start living within our means,” he said, pointing out that Parnell had not vetoed anything in the capital budget. By contrast, Walker described himself as a “true fiscal conservative.”
Well before Tuesday’s official announcement, Parnell wrote on his Facebook page, “Congratulations to Bill Walker and Byron Mallott for confirming what Alaskans already knew: they are two peas in a Democrat pod. Whether expanding Obamacare, raising taxes or growing government, Bill and Byron just confirmed they are part of Alaska’s Team Obama.”
Parnell has reason to be concerned. A Walker/Mallott ticket may appeal to moderate Democrats and Republicans, as well as those not registered with either major party. Combined, Democrats and Republicans constitute a minority of the Alaska electorate.
There was a large crowd on hand to hear Tuesday’s announcement, including Democratic candidate for Congress Forrest Dunbar, Alaska House Minority Leader Chris Tuck, and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Ethan Berkowitz. While Walker’s former running mate Fleener was present and introduced both Walker and Mallott, Mallott’s former running mate French was absent.
There has been some speculation on social media that French might be a candidate for attorney general if Walker is elected. His absence may be a way of distancing himself from the campaign to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo.
In a statement that was read to the Democratic Central Committee before their 89-2 vote in favor of the unified ticket, French said, “I have asked for nothing in exchange for my resignation. I believe the overriding imperative is to replace Sean Parnell.”