Mike Dingman: Another Alaska election with history in the making?

It's not very often that you get to stand in a room and witness history being made. I was honored to be on the 10th floor of the Captain Cook Hotel and watched Bill Walker and Byron Mallott do just that.

Standing on the shoulders of a giant, in the room that Walter Hickel built, Byron Mallott stepped aside from his position as the Democratic nominee for governor and joined with Walker on what is being billed as the "unity ticket."

Walker alluded in his speech to advice he received from Hickel. He said that Hickel told him to skip the party system and run as an Independent. Walker failed to take that advice and ran as a Republican in 2010. This time Hickel's advice has come into use.

I wrote last week about how having a social conservative at the head of a "unity ticket" disenfranchises those who feel that social conservatives are waging a "war on women" -- even though some of those liberal loudmouths have hypocritically sung the praises of this ticket.

Regardless of how you feel about the politics of this ticket, you should be excited about the historic times we are living in.

There was a special feeling in 1990 when Walter Hickel decided to run for governor and stole his running mate, Jack Coghill, from Arliss Sturgulewski and the Republican establishment. The new ticket stimulated a quiet and unrepresented base -- independent Alaskans who do not necessarily buy into the two-party system.

Most Alaskans don't belong to a political party. We represent ourselves as "Nonpartisan" or "Undeclared." We would rather vote for our favorite person than our favorite party. While the two major parties have a stranglehold on the political world in most of the country -- Alaska is different.


Hickel made history in 1990 by becoming governor on the Alaska Independence Party ticket. He and Coghill bucked the two-party system and left the Republicans and Democrats in their rear-view mirror as they sped toward Juneau.

I couldn't help but feel history was being made as I stood there listening to Byron Mallott speak with passion, for the first time in the entire campaign: a successful civic leader in many realms who could become the first Alaska Native to win statewide executive office as lieutenant governor.

Mallott not only has the legitimacy of being the mayor of Juneau and leadership within Alaska Native organizations -- including being president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, but he was also one of the co-chairs of Sen. Lisa Murkowski's re-election write-in campaign, in which Murkowski made good on her promise to "make history."

Walker's story is also about as Alaskan as it gets. Walker's campaign website says that his parents met at Mount McKinley during World War II. He was the youngest ever mayor of Valdez and is an oil and gas attorney with an admitted love for large-diameter pipelines. He claims that he will spend less time studying projects and more time building some.

Individually, neither Walker nor Mallott posed a threat to Parnell, particularly with both in the race. They certainly feed off of the same base of independents and moderates of either party. Stealing votes from each other, they left the governor's race as the least exciting of what was shaping up to be a very exciting election.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Dan Sullivan -- former Alaska attorney general and commissioner of the Division of Natural Resources -- is trying to unseat Sen. Mark Begich. Polling has this race consistently within the margin of error and promises to be a very exciting race right up until election night. This was the race that seemed most exciting.

However, Walker and Mallott may have stolen some of their thunder.

A Public Policy Polling poll from last month lays out the reasons for the unity ticket very clearly. Listing all the candidates for governor, Parnell, while leading the poll, only garnered 37 percent. This shows his vulnerability.

Another polling number to look closely at is the "favorability" numbers, which are gauged when pollsters ask people what they think of a certain candidate. When you're a candidate, particularly who isn't an incumbent, a high percentage of "not sure" votes is a good thing, because it gives you a chance to define who you are throughout the campaign.

Walker's favorable was 31 percent while his "not sure" was 49 percent. Similarly, Mallott's favorable was 26 percent and his "not sure" was 59 percent. This gives the ticket the opportunity to define, through the campaign who they are to Alaskans, the vast majority of whom either have a positive opinion or no opinion of both Walker and Mallott.

In the hotel built by Walter Hickel, Bill Walker and Byron Mallott announced their hope to make history, much like Mallott did with Lisa Murkowski. Does Alaska have one more history-making election in the works?

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 1990s. Email him at michaeldingman(at)gmail.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Mike Dingman

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.