Home Statewide Politics Emphasizing Unity and Togetherness, Walker Sworn in as Alaska’s 11th Governor

Emphasizing Unity and Togetherness, Walker Sworn in as Alaska’s 11th Governor

Photo credit: Bryan Dunagan.
Photo credit: Bryan Dunagan.

A packed house in Juneau hosted the swearing-in ceremony of Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott and Governor Bill Walker, as mandated by the Alaska State Constitution. Viewers from across the state were allowed to take in the spectacle, thanks (seriously, thank you!) to the good folks as KTOO.

The Mt. St. Elias Dancers, from Yakutat, Alaska, opened the proceedings. Craig Fleener, who started off this campaign season on the independent ticket with Governor-elect Bill Walker, served as master of ceremonies. He began with a humble request that attendees silence their cell phones, and then introduced the overarching theme of the ceremony in a brief opening statement.

“Partisan politics and vigorous campaigns may divide us, but far greater is our shared commitment to our state, our country, and our constitutions,” he said. “Today is a symbol of all we believe, and all that unites us.”

Fleener introduced David Katzeek, the clan leader of the Thunderbird Clan of the Tlingit, who was invited to provide the welcome and acknowledgment of the ceremony. With a strong voice that immediately secured the undivided attention of everyone present, he said:

Yesterday, as I woke, I looked out and I saw the snow coming down. It was so beautiful. And as I looked at the sun, the words, the ancient words of the Tlingit people said to me… It said: May this be the way it is for those who are going to be in charge. Like the snow falling. Like the snow falling and covering all the earth. May the blessing be like the snow. May their wisdom be like the snow that falls from above. May their knowledge be like the snow that fell yesterday. May their wisdom be as deep as it is on the mountains and on the glaciers of Alaska. And may they lead with love and kindness and appreciation of the land and all people.

Then, Katzeek asked the audience to repeat after him: “Everybody say ‘Wooch een.’ Say it loud,” he said. The audience obeyed several times, chanting the Tlingit word louder with each repetition. “Say it like you mean it. It means ‘together.’ Together. Together, there is not a thing we cannot accomplish as human beings.”

The invocation was given by Pastor Steve Holsinger from Faith Christian Community in Anchorage, the home church of Governor Walker and his wife Donna. Holsinger offered a prayer from Psalm 72, which he adapted to fit the swearing in of a new governor.

Give justice to the governor, oh God, and righteousness to the lieutenant governor. Help them govern in the right way. Let the poor always be treated fairly. May the mountains yield prosperity for all, and may the hills be fruitful because the governor does what is right. Help him to defend the poor, to rescue the children of the needy, and to crush their oppressors. May the influence and accomplishment of Governor Walker’s administration be great and last through many generations. May his lifelong dreams for our state be accomplished and may his time in this office be as refreshing as the springtime rains, like the showers that water the earth bringing new life.

“Allow us, the governed, to be a blessing to them as they govern,” Holsinger concluded. “And may we, with every person in every position, whether elected or appointed, continue the spirit of unity that brought this ticket together.

Former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti swore in Byron Mallott to a large ovation from the crowd. Juneau is Mallott’s hometown. Mallott is now the lone Democrat elected to statewide office in Alaska.

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Daniel Winfree then swore in Alaska’s 11th governor, Bill Walker, with his family on stage behind him. After the oath was administered, Winfree jokingly concluded: “You may now kiss the bride.” Walker, staving off tears, kindly obliged — kissing his wife and then hugging each of his family members.

Dressed in traditional Tlingit regalia, Mallott began by thanking his family for their support.

I stand before you as an Alaskan; proud and confident. Proud that every Alaskan has the ability to know and to express who each of us is. Whether we wear Carhartts, blue jeans, fancy suits, or silk ties; whether we fish, whether we work with our hands — in every way that we contribute to the beauty and value of our state — we each can be proud to be Alaskans. I am confident because as Alaskans we can come together. That as Alaskans, we can reach out, we can understand, we can empathize, we can know — from Ketchikan to Kaktovik; from Angoon from Anaktuvuk Pass and Anchorage — that we Alaskans can be one. That we Alaskans can rise as one.

Mallott introduced Governor Walker, who delivered an emotional speech that lasted a little over ten minutes. Walker began by thanking Mallott, then thanked outgoing Governor Sean Parnell. Next, he thanked his former running mate, Craig Fleener, and Mallott’s former running mate Hollis French, and momentarily abandoned script to talk about his history and roots in Alaska.

Specifically, he mentioned the Good Friday Earthquake. “The Earth trembled, and it nearly swallowed our town,” he said, noticeably choking up as he spoke. Walker was 12 years old, and said that he lost a lot of friends. He told his story, about how his family pulled together to survive.

I often think of Alaska as one big family, too. We pull together in tough times, just as we did when we survived the largest earthquake in the world. We came together as Alaskans to rebuild this great state and make it stronger. Then we built an oil pipeline. Just as it forever changed my life, the pipeline broke new ground for Alaska. Today, oil was hovering in the $70 range. We’re heading into some lean times. There is no reason we cannot turn that around. We live in one of the most resource rich states in the nation, in one of the richest countries in the world. The key to every growing economy is low cost energy. We don’t have a resource problem in Alaska, we have a distribution problem. I am steadfastly committed to developing that distribution system to bring Alaska’s natural gas to Alaskans and to lucrative world markets.

Walker also said that too many Alaskans are going without health care, noting that upwards of 40,000 Alaskans did not have preventative care. “When one person is sick and doesn’t get medical attention, the entire family suffers,” he said. To the largest round of applause, he completed his thought: “I told you that accepting expanded Medicaid was a high priority for me. And we will begin the wheels in motion today to begin accepting expanded Medicaid.”

The ceremony set a clear tone of unity and togetherness, which might be seen as an appeal to a legislature that was very partisan last year, and which didn’t change very much subsequent to this past election cycle. Still, Walker closed by emphasizing that he intended open dialog and inclusive problem-solving strategies to be the hallmark of his administration.

I know that hard work is not a partisan effort, but an Alaskan value. There is no natural disaster, man-made catastrophe, or fiscal crisis that can withstand the force of the mighty Alaskan spirit. Like a family, we are diverse; we are passionate. Especially when we disagree. But we are all united in a common thread: we are rising as one. We are on that steep climb to our peak. It is with great honor that I lead you on that journey.