Their arms raised and hands clasped in a victory embrace, Bill Walker and his new running mate, Byron Mallott, declared at a rally and press conference Tuesday that their race for Alaska’s chief executive would be nonpartisan and inclusive.
Walker, a Republican until just a couple of hours before the event, and Mallott, the Democratic nominee for governor until he resigned from the ticket a short time before, declared they were running as independents to repair the state’s economy, energy policies, education practices and the state’s relations with its rural residents.
“We talk about bipartisanship, having a bipartisan administration. We’ll have a ‘no partisan’ administration,” Walker told a cheering crowd packed behind a bank of TV cameras in the Quarter Deck at the Hotel Captain Cook. “We’re going to field the best and brightest Alaskans across the state. Our administration is going to look like Alaska in every way possible. Partisan politics will not have a place in our administration.”
The venue for the new ticket’s first event was itself symbolic. The hotel was built by the late Wally Hickel, who in 1990 became the first -- and so far, only -- candidate to win a governor’s race outside of the two major parties. It was in that same room that Hickel endorsed Walker’s failed bid for governor as a Republican in 2010. Walker lost the primary to the incumbent, Gov. Sean Parnell, who is seeking his second full term.
Mallott said he drew closer to Walker as the two met along the campaign trail, especially at forums that Parnell didn't attend.
“As the campaign progressed, it became clear that we shared many aspirations, and believed in Alaska in a very similar way,” Mallott said. “Over the course of the campaign, in many, many gatherings, helped along, I might say, by the absence of Gov. Parnell, we forged a friendship.”
Both men were born in Alaska and are former mayors -- Walker of Valdez, Mallott of Yakutat and Juneau -- and neither has held statewide office. Their announcement that they would forge a unity campaign on the last day for changes to the Nov. 4 ballot required a tightly choreographed series of events that didn’t conclude until after 5 p.m. Tuesday.
In a special Labor Day meeting Monday, the Democratic Party central committee decided it would not field candidates for governor or lieutenant governor if Mallott and his running mate, Alaska Sen. Hollis French, resigned. It also said it would support a unity ticket headed by Walker if Walker quit the Republican Party, a requirement of Democratic Party bylaws.
After state offices opened Tuesday, Walker made good on the promise, changing his registration to “undeclared.”
Then, a key advisor to the Walker campaign, former Democratic Lt. Gov. Stephen McAlpine, took the long way to the Hotel Captain Cook. McAlpine, an attorney with roots in Valdez, hand carried resignation letters from Mallott, French, and Walker’s original running mate, Craig Fleener, to the Alaska Division of Elections, the lieutenant governor’s office and the attorney general’s office. He also delivered a letter from Walker, saying he chose Mallott to replace Fleener. And McAlpine dropped off a copy of a five-page Attorney General’s opinion from 2006 that said independent candidates for governor should be allowed to replace their own running mates.
Shortly after 5 p.m., Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, the state’s chief elections official, announced he had issued an emergency order allowing Walker to pick Mallott as his running mate, just as was done in 2006 for then-independent Republican candidate Andrew Halcro.
Parnell welcomed the new ticket with a swipe, calling them both Democrats.
“The Democrat gubernatorial ticket of Walker-Mallott offers a clear choice for Alaskans who want more of President Obama’s policies in Alaska. For those who want more freedom, less government, and more economic opportunity, the Parnell-Sullivan ticket is the clear choice,” Parnell said.
The Obama theme was also raised by Peter Goldberg, the chairman of the state Republican Party.
“Today Bill Walker left no doubt among Alaskan voters that he has forsaken conservative values and embraced far-left Obama extremism by allying himself with Byron Mallott,” Goldberg said.
At their news conference and rally, Walker and Mallott mostly stayed away from attacking Parnell.
“This announcement isn’t about Gov. Parnell,” Walker said. “It’s going to be about leadership, it’s going to be about putting Alaskans first, it’s going to be about reaching out to people and listening.”
In an oblique reference to Parnell and the sale of state-owned resources, Walker said: “You know, we’re an owner state -- we need to start acting like an owner state. We need a foreman of the ranch, not a ranch hand as governor.” The rest of his statement was drowned out by whoops and hollers from the big crowd.
Walker, 63, has spent much of his recent public life pushing for construction of a gas line from the North Slope. The line he supported would have run to Valdez, which is not the destination for the two gas lines that Parnell’s administration is studying. Either would end up shipping gas to Cook Inlet, one to a large export plant in Nikiski -- the home district of Republican House Speaker Mike Chenault.
Walker said the Alaska terminal of a line was less important than the final destination for the gas.
“The pipeline I’m interested in, the destination is Asia. The destination is the marketplace, that’s what we need to focus on,” Walker said. And, he added, it’s time to stop studying projects and build them. But, he added, he opposes the small-diameter line the state is studying as one of two alternatives because it wouldn’t provide enough gas for export and wouldn’t save money for consumers.
“We aren’t going to fix Alaska by starting with the smallest project possible and keeping the price of energy high and bringing no money into Alaska,” Walker said.
As for a large line, the state is mistaken for waiting for the North Slope producers and its gas line construction partner, TransCanada, to decide what they will do, Walker said.
“I will not wait one day waiting for a decision out of the boardroom of Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips or TransCanada -- they’re never going to do what’s best for Alaska,” Walker said. “Alaskans need to do what’s best for Alaska. I’ll be that governor that steps up and says, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ and we’ll do it.”