Opinions

Rick Halford: Walker knows how to listen, knows how to lead

I have been a Republican for 50 years, spending about half of that time in public office. My service included four years in the Alaska House of Representative and 20 in the Senate, during which I served as House majority leader, Senate majority leader, and Senate president. I concluded my time in public office as Republican National Committeeman. As a legislator, I got to know Bill Walker, both as a strong advocate for an LNG project and as a municipal leader.

The Republican Party I grew up and spent my life in is based on the principles of free enterprise, individual freedom, small business, and fiscal responsibility. Bill Walker represents those principles far better than most of us. In fact, when I started in the House over 35 years ago, conservative Democrats like Rep. Oral Freeman were more conservative than most Republicans today.

Political parties change with leaders, times and interests. We all know that Alaska's Republican Party has had a tumultuous decade. Now Bill Walker has had to step out of his party and join with an articulate, experienced, dedicated long-term Democratic leader, Byron Mallott, in order to bring some sense of balance to years of disjointed leadership.

Bill was born and raised in Alaska small towns, and educated in Alaska public schools, Lewis & Clark College and the Puget Sound School of Law. He knows organized labor from the bottom up and management from the top down, having owned numerous businesses since he was a relatively young man. And as a businessman, he has met payroll with his own money. Bill Walker does not need a job.

He knows that Alaska is a resource development state. Without resource income, individual taxes would be unbearable and our economy would shrink drastically. Bill understands that development has to be supported by Alaskans, pay its own way, and be environmentally sound.

Alaska has spent over $1 billion on mega-project dreams in recent years. Some of the projects are mutually exclusive, most of the money is gone and nothing is done. Short-term constituent pressures produce too many yes votes without tough choices. Real leaders will be transparent with the public about the details and make decisions based on objective economic criteria. Alaska needs decisions -- not another decade of plans and another $1 billion in wasted public funds.

Social issues tend to be defining points for single issue voters, but in my decades of political interaction, legislative and gubernatorial campaign promises have had almost no real impact on long-term outcomes. Neither a pro-life governor nor a pro-choice lieutenant governor will trump the federal government and the U.S. Supreme Court on gender, marriage or pregnancy.

Bill Walker is an anomaly in successful political campaigners. When you see a pickup truck near someone putting up a sign, it is often Bill at the wheel or hammering the stake. He has been his own campaign strategist and mostly his own manager. His family and longtime friends and colleagues, are the real team players and workhorses supporting him.

In a lifetime of working effectively with people of strongly different views in the private sector and local government, he has learned to listen carefully and concentrate on expanding the areas of agreement. With Bill Walker what you see is what you get. He is not arrogant, but he is secure enough to make hard decisions or face the reality of mistakes with honesty rather than a cover-up.

Bill Walker is a good man that Alaska needs now -- just as we needed Wally Hickel, Jay Hammond, Bill Egan, and Ted Stevens. He is smart enough to listen and tough enough to lead.

Rick Halford is a former president of the state Senate and lifelong Republican.

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, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

Sponsored