Opinions

Who is Bill Walker? Neither party may like the answer

With the frenzy surrounding announcement of a Bill Walker-Byron Mallott gubernatorial ticket -- some breathlessly call it "historic" -- you have to wade through a river of populist drivel to get to the meaty question: Who is Bill Walker?

Pardon me for noticing, but Walker -- a guy working hard to be everything to everybody, to be "inclusive" and "nonpartisan" -- is not who many Democrats may hope he is. There is somebody quite different wrapped in the Kool-Aid rhetoric.

Until recently a socially conservative Republican, Walker flipped to independent and flopped to undeclared to hook up with a liberal, traditional Democrat to challenge Republican incumbent Sean Parnell for the state's top executive post. Just think of Walker's gyrations and contortions in climbing to the tippy top of that ticket as part of a political game of "Twister."

To get there, to assuage gobsmacked Democrats, he dismisses seemingly irreconcilable contradictions in conservative and liberal dogma by dismissing them with a wave of the hand, by proclaiming social issues are not his bag. He is, Walker will tell you, unconcerned with that sort of thing. He is a fiscal guy, a big picture guy. He will leave the social stuff to somebody else. It is the same schtick, journalist Amanda Coyne notes, that Senate candidate Dan Sullivan uses. Democrats castigate Sullivan, but apparently forgive Walker.

One of those pesky social questions tripped him up right out of the chute. He had vowed, as the fusion ticket was being hammered out, to veto any legislation that would weaken abortion rights. Two days after the new ticket's formation, he took back the promise.

When he last ran for governor, Walker was not so wishy-washy when it came to core Republican principles. In a 2010 survey by Alaska Family Action, the lobbying arm of the conservative Alaska Family Council, Walker displayed strong views when it came to abortion.

Asked whether he would support Parnell's veto of a $2.9 million funding expansion for Denali KidCare because it used public money to underwrite abortions, he answered, "yes." He said he would support a policy defining "medically necessary abortions" and a constitutional amendment clarifying the Alaska Constitution does not have a more expansive right to abortion than the U.S. Constitution.

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He showed strong gay rights opinions in the survey, too. Walker answered he would support a constitutional amendment denying marriage benefits to same-sex partners of state employees and retirees -- and he would oppose adding "gender identity" and/or "sexual orientation" to Alaska's civil rights statute.

Walker answered he would support legislation requiring Internet filters on public library computers, but said, "no," to a constitutional amendment requiring a vote of the people to legalize gambling for profit. He would support an amendment allowing the governor to bypass the Alaska Judicial Council in selecting judge candidates.

The only two survey questions Walker waffled on were whether Alaskans should be able to select "Choose Life" license plates and whether he would support a school choice constitutional amendment. He answered "undecided."

Walker's answers seemingly would be anathema to liberals. The only Democrat of note who responded to the 2010 survey was then-gubernatorial candidate Hollis French. He was kicked to the curb after his lieutenant governor primary victory last month to allow formation of the Walker-Mallott ticket dictated by polls, the AFL-CIO and, many suspect, Mark Begich. He answered "undecided" on the survey's school choice and Internet filters questions, but "yes" to the gambling query. He answered "no" to the questions concerning abortion and gay rights.

Even if you take Walker at his word, that he is uninterested in social issues, you must wonder at his fiscal vision -- and his love affair with big projects. He said on the Mike Porcaro radio program that he wants Alaska to own 51 percent of the proposed gas line - an investment of more than $30 billion -- pushing ahead with or without the oil industry. He said he also will push for construction of the Susitna River hydro project. Given the state's track record with a fish plant and grain silos, really, what could go wrong?

At the same time, Walker will tell anybody who will listen that Alaska is going into the red at $7 million a day and promises to stop the bleeding. How?

Somewhere in the populist drivel there is an answer -- one neither Democrats nor Republicans will want to hear.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.

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

Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is a former Associated Press reporter, managing editor of the Anchorage Times, an editor of the Voice of the Times and former editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet.

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