If he gets nothing else out of his independent run for governor, Bill Walker should get his chance to lock horns with Sean Parnell on a debate stage -- and more than once.
Parnell frustrated Walker in during 2010 Republican primary campaign with a strategy that boiled down to "don't engage the opposition." Walker needed to debate. Parnell didn't.
Absence from debate in the general election won't work. Assuming a three-way race in the general, Alaskans will expect to see all three candidates present at major debates.
Walker's decision not to run as a Republican echoes Wally Hickel's run for governor in 1990, in which he hijacked the Alaskan Independence Party ticket -- along with the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor -- and went on to defeat Arliss Sturgulewski and Tony Knowles in the general election.
Right now the smart money isn't on history repeating itself. But we're a long way from the November 2014 general election.
Walker's decision makes sense because the Republican establishment and the oil industry are solidly behind Parnell, and Walker already has staked out a position far from the partly line on the referendum to repeal Senate Bill 21, the oil tax cut passed by Legislature and signed into law by Parnell. For Walker, bolting the party is a case of nothing to lose and much to gain, even if he's bucking the odds now.
Parnell has to like what he sees at the moment -- the prospect of oil tax foes Walker and the Democratic nominee (Bill Wielechowski? Hollis French?) splitting the anti-Parnell, anti-tax cut vote and handing a winning plurality to the governor.
For voters, the campaign promises a lively debate over the owner state -- just what is that concept, born of the Alaska Constitution and championed by Hickel, Jay Hammond and other Alaskans? What does it mean now? How does it apply, not just in concept but in the legislation we write, the taxes we levy, the investments we make and the way we view and manage our natural resources -- and how we manage relations with the most powerful industry in the state.
The issue of the owner state speaks to how we look at ourselves as Alaskans.
There will be smoke and spin and treasure spent in the 2014 campaign, with real substance at stake. A good battle is shaping up. Somewhere, Hickel and Hammond are smiling.
-- Frank Gerjevic