CANDIDATE Q&A: Governor — Bill Walker

The Daily News asked candidates for statewide office in the Aug. 16 Alaska primary and special U.S. House elections to answer a series of issue and biographical questions to help voters understand their positions. Some questions were suggested by readers. Read all the responses here.

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Bill Walker • Party: Non-partisan • Attorney • Age: 71 • Residence: Anchorage •

Lieutenant governor running mate: Heidi Drygas

bill walker

Relevant experience or prior offices held

I financed my education by working as a union carpenter, laborer, and teamster on the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. I have owned many businesses over the years, including my own law firm, and I served as the eleventh G=governor of Alaska.

Why are you running for office?

Heida Drygas and I are running to rebuild Alaska. Because we currently have a governor who was elected by making big promises he knew he would never be able to keep, that process must begin with rebuilding trust in leadership. We will always be honest with Alaskans, especially when the truth is tough to hear. After four lost years, rebuilding also means getting our state back on track in a literal sense: stabilizing our economy, creating opportunities for growth in communities across our state, and getting the transformational federal investment in our state’s infrastructure right.

Finally, as Independents, we’re running to represent the entire state and everyone in it. We’ve all seen the damage divisive politicians have caused in recent years, but we need to remember that we all live up here and love this place. Focusing on that fact will help us define a vision of what we want our state to become in 5, 10, and 50 years, and work together to make it happen.

Name two big problems or challenges currently facing Alaska and how you plan to address them if elected.

1. The Economy

Because of my leadership, Alaska transitioned from a budget funded 90 percent by oil to relying largely on one of the most diverse portfolios in the world – the Permanent Fund. That only solved part of the problem. Our economy is not recovering because we lack a fiscal plan and endure yearly budget battles. People are leaving the state because of the resulting instability. Alaska needs leaders like us with a record of making hard decisions to end this chapter and jump start our economy.

2. Growing the Permanent Fund

Alaska’s future is tied to the success of the Permanent Fund. Wise leaders a few generations ago had the ingenious idea of turning nonrenewable resources into generational wealth. Despite the uncertainty surrounding our future, we should be proud that we’ve carried this legacy forward. We will continue to grow the fund for the future and defend it from those who would drain it as a campaign gimmick or to subsidize short-term political goals.

Do you believe Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election? If you believe there was fraud, where and how do you think it took place?

Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump violently attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020. Do you believe President Trump should be held responsible for the events of Jan. 6?

We deeply respect the separation of powers built into our system of government. Governors should concern themselves with the issues facing their states. While the attack on the Capitol was an event, we have strong personal feelings on, we leave the issue of holding anyone responsible where it belongs: with Congress.

How do you think the Permanent Fund dividend should be calculated?

The Permanent Fund Dividend must be predictable and reliable. We hear from across the state that the perennial fight over the amount of the dividend is creating a vacuum of leadership and an inability to focus on other pressing issues, and that the debate is keeping us from focusing on Alaska’s future.

We support the largest dividend the state can afford but not at the expense of high taxes and weakened government services such as education and public safety. We will make it our top priority to resolve this issue with the Legislature so we can once and for all deliver a reliable dividend to Alaskans.

Would you support enacting additional taxes to cover the costs of essential government services? If not, how do you think the state should ensure it has enough revenue to cover essential services?

We believe Alaska should continue to be the lowest-taxed state in the nation, which is possible through responsible economic policy. While we are experiencing a temporary boost in oil prices, Alaskans have been on the rollercoaster ride of high and low prices for decades. If the ride ends again without a fiscal plan in place, the state’s ability to pay large dividends will vanish immediately, and huge deficits will return. Some politicians perpetuate the lie that large dividends can be paid without any negative consequences like cuts to schools, troopers, and road maintenance – or the implementation of new taxes.

We will keep the state budget under control, with state expenses in line with revenue, and protect the Permanent Fund so it can grow to $120 billion. At that point, Alaskans can “ring the bell” and fund essential state services and healthy dividends from the Permanent Fund. We will only get there if we prevent reckless politicians from raiding the fund for political benefit.

Do you support a constitutional convention? If so, what changes would you support making to the state constitution?

Unequivocally, no. The Alaska Constitution is one of the best in the country, and it must be protected at all costs.

Abortion access is currently protected under the Alaska constitution. Would you support any changes to current laws governing abortion access in Alaska?

We are committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights. We can do this while reducing the need for abortions and improving the lives of children and families much like Bill did when he expanded Medicaid by executive order. After expansion, abortion was reduced by 14 percent because women had access to healthcare options. Specifically, we will defend women’s rights to make their own reproductive choices in Alaska by opposing and, if necessary, vetoing any legislation that abridges reproductive rights. We will uphold those rights — guaranteed in the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause — and oppose any amendment to the Alaska Constitution that would reduce individual rights.

Do you think Alaska’s economy should be diversified? If so, how do you plan to achieve that goal?

As governor, I worked to support industries that have growth potential. One example is support of the blue economy by establishing the Mariculture Taskforce and expanding efforts to get Alaska Grown products into retail stores across our state.

Over the next four years, we will prioritize low-cost energy, affordable housing, and childcare at a statewide level to create a foundation for our economy to grow.

Under our leadership, we will also stimulate economic growth by investing in our greatest resource: ourselves. It’s time we focus on building up our villages, towns, and cities with targeted investments into new infrastructure, trail systems, town centers, and downtowns so that we love our towns and villages as much as we love our outdoors. We will also grow the state’s winter tourism industry in the model of Iceland which has worked to make their winter seasons as robust as their summer ones.

Do you support a natural gas line project in Alaska? If so, how do you plan to promote such a project?

While in office, my administration focused on permitting the project and signing up customers for Alaska’s gas. Given our low population, we need an export market to be able to have access to our own natural gas at affordable prices.

We will support an LNG project that is market-driven. The state has a role in coordinating the project, working with the markets, and acquiring the gas from the North Slope. However, it needs to be private-sector built, operated, and owned. AGDC took the lead, with Governor Walker’s assistance, to acquire 15 MOUs signed by customers for LNG from the gasline project, all of which expired under the current governor. Once that market was pushed away by the current governor, investments went to Gulf Coast projects for their supply.

Without market customers, no gasline is possible. Alaska needs leaders who understand the complexities of the project, have relationships with the market, and are committed to working with the private sector.

Salmon stocks have declined in recent years. Do you believe there is a need to change fishery management? If so, what changes would you support?

Historic low salmon runs in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers are devastating Alaskans in Y-K Delta. Indigenous people in this region rely on salmon as a staple of their diet, and the absence of fish is economically and culturally devastating. It’s important that Alaska uses sound science to understand what is causing fish runs to crash in these regions, and we commit to properly funding the Alaska Department of Fish and Game agencies to address this critical issue. We also commit to consulting Alaska’s tribes and to incorporating indigenous wisdom to help understand the problem. Finally, we will appoint Alaskans to senior positions within the Department of Fish and Game who are experts on this issue, and we will appoint Alaskan members to the Northern Pacific Fishery Management Council who recognize the importance of reducing bycatch as one necessary step to address low salmon runs. We must take immediate steps to assist those villages on the river with food for the coming months.

Drug use is an epidemic in Alaska. What actions do you support to address this epidemic?

Countless Alaskans have been affected by the opioid crisis. In the year leading to February 2022, Alaska saw the largest increase in overdose deaths of any state in the nation. In 2021, 245 Alaskans died from drug overdoses, a 69 percent increase from a year prior. (Nationwide, the average increase in deaths is 6.2 percent.)

We have lost so many loved ones to opioid use. When Bill was Governor, he recognized the harm these drugs inflict on individuals, families, and communities, and issued one of the county’s first statewide opioid disaster declarations, which helped overdose deaths drop 36 percent from 2017 to 2018.

I established the first Opioid Task Force. I also signed legislation to put caps on opioid prescriptions and institute training for medical providers who prescribe opioids and signed the late Senator Johnny Ellis’ bill making the life-saving drug naloxone available to immediately address overdoses.

Our administration increased the drug dog presence in airports, and featured our smiling drug dogs on posters in Seattle that greeted those seeking to bring drugs to Alaska. We will prioritize this issue on our first day and submit budgets that fully fund public safety divisions that will address the crisis of opioid deaths in Alaska.

What do you see as Alaska’s greatest infrastructure needs and how do you plan to address those needs?

Without basic infrastructure like running water, modern sewer systems, cheap energy, and digital equality, communities can’t develop economies that work. We face these urgent needs not just because we are a young state, but also because of chronic underfunding over the past several years.

Our roads are crumbling beneath our feet, as anyone who lived through last winter knows all too well. We will invest in robust capital budgets that put Alaskans to work and take care of critical buildings and facilities so we are prepared for the future. One example is the largest port in our state, the Port of Alaska, which is in dire need of upgrades.

Many of these projects can be funded through the bipartisan infrastructure bill, passed in large part because of the efforts of Senator Lisa Murkowski. However, the State of Alaska must also do its part to maximize the use of these funds and aggressively go after billions in competitive federal grant funds.

How do you think new resource development projects in Alaska should be balanced with the interests of environmental protection and climate change mitigation?

Alaska has the most robust environmental safety standards for development in the country. Oil and gas projects on the North Slope go through rigorous permitting review and development only takes place during the winter on ice roads so that tundra is protected. Input from local communities on these development projects is critical. We support the restoration of the Coastal Zone Management program which was instrumental in incorporating public comments into development plans. I also established the Climate Action Leadership Team which produced the state’s most comprehensive plan to address climate change in our state in the coming years, with over 40 specific recommendations that we could begin working on today.

Should transgender athletes be allowed to compete in sports according to the gender with which they identify?

The question of who competes in sports has been forced into the national spotlight by hyper-partisan political instigators who wish to sow division for political gain. Such actions are immoral and un-Alaskan. This issue is clearly deeply personal, and we worry about potential constitutional invasions of privacy if politicians insert themselves into this issue. We will not participate in turning this into a political football here in Alaska, and we will leave decisions to individuals who manage our local sports associations, which are the appropriate bodies to deal with such matters. We will also reject any laws that create statewide mandates about who can play on what team.

The only thing we’ll add on this subject is that participation in a team sport at an early age is a great way to learn how to work with people from different backgrounds toward a common goal, a lesson every kid should learn.

The federal infrastructure bill, which was voted for by all members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, stands to bring millions in federal funding to projects in Alaska. How would you ensure Alaska maximizes the benefits of this bill?

If it weren’t for the bipartisan efforts of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and the late Representative Don Young, the infrastructure bill would not have passed. It will take a similar effort to ensure the funds made available to states end up getting put to good use here.

As Independents, we will work with any presidential administration to represent us, not a national political party. That is key to bringing funds to Alaska in the same vein as the late Senator Ted Stevens. The goal of these federal grants is to fund states with the greatest need for new infrastructure or for repairing old infrastructure, with a focus on rural needs. If we can’t “out-rural” every other state, Alaskans are right to question our leaders.

With $100 billion to $300 billion in grant funding available, we must not let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass us by.

What other important issue would you like to discuss?

Alaska was built by leaders with a vision and the political courage to carry it out. They grew the state, so our children and grandchildren could stay in Alaska. Today Alaska has no vision and no political courage. Another term in office is not the vision that built this state. Instead, we are a state with no vision, like a ship without a rudder and no one in the wheelhouse, and thousands of Alaskans are leaving their home state for opportunities elsewhere. We as a state are imploding and the current governor is doing absolutely nothing about it. We can and must do better.