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State business takes back seat as Walker hosts open house in Juneau

  • Author: Pat Forgey
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 9, 2014

JUNEAU -- Wide-eyed children wended between tables mounded with cookies and gingerbread houses, and asked parents just how many cookies it was acceptable to pile on a plate, while the adults shook hands with new Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov Byron Mallott and their families at the governor's mansion Tuesday.

While Juneau was enjoying a traditional wet holiday afternoon, residents appeared to not notice the rain as they lined up to do something they've done 100 times now -- visit the annual open house at the governor's residence in Alaska's capital city.

Juneau's Julie Coppens, visiting with 9-year-old daughter Elsie, said she also attended the open house when it was hosted by Gov. Sean Parnell.

"We care very much who the governor is, but we set politics aside for the holidays," Coppens said.

Walker said the visitors, who can number in the thousands, are welcome because the house -- officially called the Governor's House but informally referred to as the "Governor's Mansion" -- belongs to the people of Alaska.

"We're humbled to be a guest of the people while we are in Juneau," he said.

The Governor's House was built in 1913 to house the governor of the "District of Alaska," before even the state's territorial days. The fireplace mantel is still engraved with the seal of the long-outdated District of Alaska.

Awaiting visitors this year were 25,000 cookies and 280 pounds of fudge, with hopes it would all be given away.

While the residence is more than 100 years old, annual open house celebrations were suspended for two years during World War II, so this year's event marked the 100th open house.

The new Walker-Mallott administration took a break from work on the state budget, which Walker said was the state's top priority, for the traditional celebration.

Members of the administration also greeted the public, serving punch and bringing hot cocoa to those in lines that wrapped around the block. And community volunteers turned out to run the event, inside and out.

But even while the budget work was ongoing, Walker denied that the state's budget situation was such that possible frills such as holiday celebrations would need to be cut.

"I don't think that we're going to stop holiday open houses -- we still are the state of Alaska, the great state of Alaska, we're not going to stop doing that -- but there are some things we will stop doing," he said.

Possible cuts are under review now, but Walker said he'll keep his own budget proposal under wraps until February, when he will forward to the Legislature an amended version of the preliminary budget drafted by Parnell and made public last week.

For Lt. Gov. Mallott, Tuesday's open house wasn't his first. He was a young member of Gov. Bill Egan's cabinet in 1972, and as the junior member "I had responsibility for ladling punch for hours," Mallott recalled Tuesday.

Mallott, who lives in Juneau, will have his family's traditional Christmas gathering, while the far-flung Walker family will gather in Juneau for its own family Christmas, including their family tradition of attending a candlelight service at midnight, he said.