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Craig Fleener declares run for lieutenant governor with independent Bill Walker

Alex DeMarban
A new name has been thrown into the race to be Alaska's next lieutenant governor. Former deputy Fish and Game Commissioner Craig Fleener has joined the race as an unaffiliated candidate. Courtesy Craig Fleener for Lt. Gov. campaign

What many considered an oil and gas dream team of Bill Walker and Bill Wielechowski -- known affectionately as "Bill W squared" -- is off the table in a run for Alaska governor and lieutenant governor.

Instead, oil and gas attorney and independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker announced on Monday that he'll run with the state's former deputy commissioner of Fish and Game, Craig Fleener, who will vie for second-in-command under Walker. The candidates plan to skip the primary and run independent of any party in the general election. 

Walker said he respects Wielechowski and said they share similarities when it comes to oil and gas issues -- both want to abolish the governor's tax cut for oil companies -- but that he wanted a broader ticket. Fleener, an Alaska Native and military veteran deeply rooted in subsistence and wildlife issues, gives him that chance, Walker said.

Fleener, a Gwich'in Athabaskan from the Interior and a Doyon shareholder, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is currently a major in the U.S. Air Force Alaska Air National Guard, where he has served since 1991. A senior intelligence officer, he recently went on a tour of duty in Afghanistan as part of ongoing U.S. operations in the region. 

Fleener said he resigned from his state post early last week to run for office, effective immediately. Though he had offered to help tie up any loose ends -- so he didn't leave the department "in the lurch" -- he felt that state statute required that he step down quickly, once he was certain he'd run.  

Resigning was something he hated to do, said Fleener, who announced in Fairbanks on Monday at the headquarters of Doyon Limited, the Alaska Native regional corporation for much of the Interior. Fleener stood alongside Walker and his wife and children, with his grandmother from Fort Yukon behind him. 

"I had no axe to grind," he said. "I appreciated the opportunities provided to me at Fish and Game and I wish them no malice." 

Candidates for governor include Gov. Sean Parnell and Byron Mallot, running as a Democrat. Candidates for lieutenant governor include Democrat Bob Williams, a teacher, and Republicans Sen. Lesil McGuire and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. 

Fleener, raised in Fort Yukon, said he's always had a "servant's heart," and stepping down from a high-paying job to risk a run for office was a logical step, he said. Trying to make life better for others is why he worked at the tribal government in Fort Yukon years ago, for the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments representing tribes in the Yukon Flats, and served in the U.S. Marines, he said.

Fleener said he wanted to bring all Alaskan voices together, or as he also said in Marine parlance, "not leave any many behind." That's not to imply that Alaskans are divided under Parnell's leadership, he said.  

"I'm not here to point fingers or push blame onto anyone," he said.  

One thing that has been lacking in all administrations is listening to all Alaskans, he said. Fleener, who has directed the state division of subsistence, said one challenge he'll focus on will involve making sure fish and game populations are healthy and that hunters have access to the animals. 

"Food security is something that's very important to me," he said. 

Walker said he had met with Wielechowski about the idea of running together but ultimately chose Fleener some weeks ago after friends suggested they consider running together. A top issue Walker hears about from Alaskans, beside oil and gas issues, are concerns over losing access to fish and game opportunities.

"That's a very common theme, so it makes sense to have someone with that background and that kind of passion," Walker said. "Most of my experience has been with the natural resource of oil and gas. His has been with natural resources, too, but fish and game. It's a comfortable fit."

After gathering more than 3,000 valid signatures, Walker and Fleener both plan to skip the primary election and run as independents in the general election in November 2014.

Fleener's decision to step down is one of many recent changes in the Parnell Administration.

Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan resigned last month himself, many believe to run for Senate. Bryan Butcher, head of Revenue, was tapped to run the Alaska Economic Development Corp. Joe Masters, head of Public Safety, has also recently stepped down.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex@alaskadispatch.com