The Alaska deal is done. The state’s Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor are withdrawing from the race. And the independent candidate for lieutenant governor, Craig Fleener, gives up his spot. And so begins the fusion candidacy of the Alaska First team of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott.
In June I was moderating a “debate” between Walker and Mallott. And it became clear how close these two candidates were on many issues. Not all. But there was a lot more in common between Walker and Mallott than with either and the current governor Sean Parnell. I asked then, what about teaming up? Both answered that it was a question that came up often and they weren’t there yet.
Last month I moderated another forum at the University of Alaska Anchorage. This time Mallott was ill and could not attend so it became a long conversation between Walker and I. This time, it was clear that the focus was on what would it take to defeat Parnell. Walker said (something that he has repeated often) that he did not fear losing the election, instead he was afraid of losing the state. This election was that important.
A lot of people shared that sentiment — and over the weekend a lot of people gave up on their own personal ambition to create the Alaska First ticket. Agree with them or not, it was an unselfish act because there was no way to win in a three-way race. That all changes now. There is no guarantee that Walker & Mallott will triumph, but at least it’s a race now.
I began the August forum by telling Walker my version of the Montana story and governorship of Brian Schweitzer. That one state executive put American Indians front and center with symbols (flags at the state capitol), by making decisions in partnership with tribes, and by appointing Native Americans to a variety of positions across state government. I asked why that couldn’t happen in Alaska? This is a state where the Native population is the highest in the country and yet the Alaska Native voice is so often missing from routine discourse.
“I like that concept. It’s not the first time I have heard that,” Walker responded. “Alaska is broke in many areas and it’s not going to be fixed by someone trying to win the next election. I don’t worry about the next election, I worry about the next century in this state.”
Walker is specific about many of the issues that are important to Alaska Native communities. For example one of Walker’s primary themes is reducing the cost of energy across Alaska. In a state where oil and gas is exported, Walker said, the price of energy in villages threatens their future. “Energy is in a disaster mode across the state,” he said. “We’ve been overpaying for energy for too long.”
I asked what Walker thought about Medicaid expansion. He said he’d look at it for about one hour — and then accept Medicaid expansion (bringing some $2.1 billion to Alaska in new resources). “We paid for it. Alaskans paid for it,” Walker said. “It helps between 10,000 and 40,000 Alaskans. And it creates 4,000 new medical jobs in our state and brings down the cost of health care. Why would we not do that?”
Why not, indeed.
Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.