Alaska News

Gov. Walker, Juneau celebrate a 100-year Christmas tradition with open house

JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker celebrated a traditional wet Christmas season Tuesday, but cheerful residents of Juneau didn't appear to notice as they stood in long lines in the December drizzle to tour the historic Governor's House.

Visitors were able to tour the festively decorated house, meet and shake hands with Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, munch on cookies and listen to live entertainment.

"It's absolutely magical in this house, especially this time of year," Walker said. "And the volunteers absolutely outdid themselves with the decorations."

The annual open house is a cherished part of Juneau's history, and this year's event was the 100th in the house's 102-year history. Two were canceled during World War II.

This year the open house came bracketed between difficult announcements of continued budget deficits and a challenging new fiscal plan.

Walker's first gubernatorial open house came last year just days after he was sworn into office as an independent, and he said he didn't know what to expect.

People lined up for hours to shake his hand before heading off for the desserts, decorations and entertainment.

"I figured some folks would show up, I had no idea it would be that many," he said.

By the end of the day, said first lady Donna Walker, the governor had shaken as many as 4,000 hands, equal to more than 10 percent of Juneau's residents.

"And I took a break -- he never did," she said.

"I had no way of gauging when it was going to stop," Gov. Walker said.

But it went faster than political handshaking usually does, because just past the governor was the dining room piled high with cookies and fudge -- as many as 25,000 total.

"They're not bringing me a legislative message, they're thanking me and heading for the cookies," he said.

The sweets included a first this year, Donna Walker said -- gluten-free cookies were available.

Immediately after the open house, Walker would be heading back to Anchorage to roll out his fiscal plan and deal with anticipated budget deficits in the billions.

Despite a year of such challenges, Walker said he's still enjoying being governor.

"I absolutely love it," he said. "I know that surprises people."