Walker chooses Fleener as running mate in independent bid for governor

ldemer@adn.comOctober 14, 2013 

Independent governor candidate Bill Walker has picked a recently resigned Fish and Game deputy commissioner to be his running mate.

Walker announced Monday at Doyon Ltd. headquarters in Fairbanks that Craig Fleener, an Athabascan and Doyon Ltd. shareholder, will be on the independent ticket as an lieutenant governor candidate.

Fleener, 46 and a military veteran, is giving up a job that pays $127,536 a year for the chance at his first public elected office. He said he resigned as deputy commissioner overseeing game, subsistence and habitat last week after three years in the post. State law requires high-ranking appointees to leave state government in order to run for elective office, he said.

"Clearly I can't start running on another ticket and expect to be working for the governor at the same time," Fleener said. He said he had no issue with Gov. Sean Parnell's fish and game policies and offered to complete any outstanding projects.

Walker, an Anchorage attorney who specializes in oil and gas issues, announced April 25 that he intended to seek the GOP nomination for governor. Days later, Parnell said he was seeking re-election. On Aug. 1, Walker announced he would instead run as an independent.

Earlier, Walker talked with Democratic state Sen. Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage about running with him as an independent. That was before Democrat Sen. Hollis French began exploring a bid for governor and former Sealaska Corp. chief executive Byron Mallott announced he was running. The timing wasn't right for Wielechowski to join with a Republican on an independent ticket, Walker said.

Walker and Fleener, whose voter registration is "undeclared," met through a mutual friend about a month ago, Walker said. Walker said Fleener's knowledge of fish and wildlife will complement his own work on oil and gas issues as a lawyer. Fleener is a biologist. They'll run as a team and if they win, they'll work together as a team, Walker said.

The lieutenant governor "will not be somebody that's 150 yards down the hall hoping I will have a bad health day," Walker said.

Fleener was raised in Fort Yukon, which he called "the most beautiful and bountiful place of all," and has lived in Anchorage since 2008 for his work with the state Department of Fish and Game. Before becoming deputy commissioner, Fleener was director of the subsistence division.

"We're going to bridge the urban-rural divide," Fleener said. "It's not about party. It's about combining all of our assets. It's about combining community and business, rural and urban, Native and non-Native."

From 1991 to 2007 he worked for the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments providing services for 10 Interior tribes in health care, education and wildlife management. His resume says he negotiated the first funding agreement ever between a tribe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ensuring tribes could manage aspects of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

He described himself as an Athabascan and a warrior, a Marine Corps veteran and a biologist, a firefighter and an aircraft mechanic, a moose hunter and a wood cutter, a Christian and "even a janitor."

As he spoke, his baby daughter Sophia, held by daughter Rachel David, fussed. He was surrounded by family: his wife, Uliana, an aunt, his son-in-law and his son. His, mother, Betty Itta, and grandmother, Doris Ward, were there too.

Fleener also served four years as a Marine and 20 in the Alaska Air National Guard.

He and Walker each must submit petitions with signatures of at least 3,017 registered voters to the Division of Elections by June 1 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

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