Before a small crowd of family members, reporters and friends at his West Anchorage home Thursday, Republican attorney Bill Walker announced that he will run for governor in 2014 because he is fed up with the state's course.
He ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, coming in second to Gov. Sean Parnell with about 33 percent of the vote in a race with three main candidates. That time, he said, he started as a virtual unknown and did better than almost anyone expected.
"But this time we start from a different position," picking up where the last campaign left off, Walker said.
Walker, a 62-year-old lifelong Alaskan, said he was motivated to run, in part, by his disagreement with the oil tax cut passed in the just-concluded legislative session and pushed through by Parnell. But he's also concerned about the stalled natural gas pipeline project, squeezed education spending and the lost can-do Alaska attitude.
"I couldn't feel more committed to a decision than I am right now about this because I hate what I know. I hate what I see out there. I hate to see what we are doing to ourselves. And there's no one to blame but ourselves," Walker said, choking up.
Parnell, a former lieutenant governor who inherited the job in 2009 after then-Gov. Sarah Palin quit mid-term, has not announced whether he will seek a second full term. His spokeswoman said he was not available for an interview Thursday.
The governor has said tax cuts are necessary to encourage oil companies to make new investment in Alaska and reverse a long-term decline in North Slope production. But critics, including Walker, say it's little more than a giveaway of Alaska resources.
"I think it moves in the wrong direction when we're transferring wealth across the table and not asking for anything to come back, with no assurances of anything, no guarantees of anything," Walker said. "I think that's a very dangerous step."
What would he do to spark more oil production? Get more oil companies to Alaska, he said.
"We need 300 companies shipping through that pipeline, not three."
The last big state public works project in Alaska was the Parks Highway, he said. It was completed in 1971.
"We turned our hard hats in for green visors to count the money. We're so busy counting the money and protecting the money, we're not doing anything anymore," Walker said.
Walker said he won't focus his campaign around pushing construction of a major natural gas pipeline, as he did in his previous race, although a pipeline project remains a priority. He said the state should seek investors and build and own the pipeline itself.
As governor, he said, he'd take charge of the project in a way that Parnell has not done.
He says he's a social conservative -- against abortion, against gay marriage -- but supports more funding for education and, unlike Parnell, would have agreed to expand the state's Medicaid program this year to bring health coverage to more Alaskans.
"Now we're looking at education being cut. We're looking at the graduation rates that are down. We are looking at health care issues," Walker said. "It will be certainly a much broader base discussion."
He also criticized the Parnell administration's multiple lawsuits against the federal government and says that's the wrong strategy, particularly around an effort to open Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.
"It seems like a lawsuit-a-month kind of program," he said.
He quoted former Govs. Bill Egan, Jay Hammond and, most frequently, Wally Hickel, including this: "We're not buying love. We're selling oil." Among those listening was Ermalee Hickel, the former governor's widow, perched on the couch and wearing a white hat. Also there was Malcolm Roberts, who was Hickel's long-time aide.
Walker's four grown children -- two sons, two daughters and their spouses -- stood behind him as he spoke. His wife of 36 years, Donna, introduced him. Somewhere in the big house, a grandbaby fussed.
"He's Alaskan to the core," Donna Walker said. She told the story of how Walker's parents, Ed and Frances, were pioneers who came to Alaska in the 1940s. Walker was born in Fairbanks while Alaska was still a territory and grew up in Delta Junction and Valdez.
"In Delta, they lived in a log cabin, without plumbing, and ran with buffalo at times to get to the outhouse in sub-zero weather," she said. "But they splurged the day Alaska became a state, with ice cream cones at Alaska's local A&W root beer."
The family's construction business was building a hotel in Valdez in 1964 when the big earthquake hit. The building materials were on the dock and destroyed. Walker, then 12, won a janitorial contract to clean the post office and help the family avoid bankruptcy, as his wife tells the story.
Walker put himself through college working union jobs on construction on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. He was in his late 20s when he became mayor of Valdez, then left for law school with his wife at the University of Puget Sound. They've lived in Anchorage for 25 years. All of their children are West High graduates.
Donna Walker pointed to the soapstone carving that she and their children gave to him for his recent birthday. They named it "Alaskan Warrior."
Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage, one of Parnell's sharpest critics in the Legislature, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor. He said earlier this week he hasn't decided whether to run.
If Parnell, who was elected in his own right in 2010, were to complete a second full term, he would be Alaska's longest serving governor. His spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said in an email that he will make an announcement in a couple of weeks about his plans for 2014.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER