As predicted earlier this week by its president, Alaska's umbrella labor organization on Friday withheld an endorsement for governor out of concern that the current three-way race will inevitably end in an easy re-election victory for Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.
Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said more than 100 delegates to the AFL-CIO convention in Fairbanks decided against endorsing either the Democrat, Byron Mallott, or the independent, Anchorage attorney Bill Walker.
But the delegates directed the AFL-CIO's executive council to convene Sept. 4 to reconsider the issue, Beltrami said.
"In the event that there's some change in the lineup, we'll have the opportunity to change (the endorsement) on Sept. 4," Beltrami said.
The convention decision is a nudge to push Mallott and Walker together on the same ticket, an idea rejected this week by Mallott.
Organized labor, from white collar to blue, opposes Parnell, Beltrami said. But a new poll just commissioned by the AFL-CIO confirmed a June survey by Anchorage pollster Ivan Moore that showed Parnell cruising to victory in a three-way race with Mallott and Walker, Beltrami said.
The new poll also showed that if only Walker and Parnell were running, the two were closely matched. If Walker resigned, leaving Mallott and Parnell in a two-way race, Mallott would lose badly, Beltrami said.
Beltrami declined to release the entire poll, but those numbers were similar to Moore's June poll.
On the other hand, the new poll showed a "super ticket" with Walker running as governor and Mallott as lieutenant governor was in a virtual dead heat with Parnell and his running mate, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, Beltrami said.
Sept. 2 is the last day a candidate can resign and not appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, and also the last day for political parties to replace any of their candidates.
In directing their executive council to meet Sept. 4, the AFL-CIO delegates were hoping that either Walker or Mallott would surge in popularity by then and prove viable in a three-way race -- or that Mallott and Walker would link up.
In an interview this week, Mallott rejected any notion of quitting as the Democratic candidate to join Walker. Walker said he was receptive, but it would require his lieutenant governor candidate, Craig Fleener, to agree to step aside. Fleener hasn't responded to calls or emails from Alaska Dispatch News about what he would do.
State law provides for succession when a candidate of a recognized political party resigns -- the party chooses the replacement. That's what happened in 1990 when John Lindauer and Jerry Ward won their primaries for governor and lieutenant governor on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket, only to resign and be replaced by Wally Hickel and Jack Coghill. Hickel and Coghill stunned the state's establishment by winning as third-party candidates.
However, when candidates reach the ballot by petition, as Walker and Fleener did, there's nothing in state law about replacing the junior member of a ticket. In 2006, when former state Rep. Andrew Halcro ran for governor as an independent and his running mate resigned, the state issued an emergency regulation allowing Halcro to name a successor. Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections, said that order appears to have expired in 2007. She said she would have to consult the attorney general's office about what to do if the situation arose again.
At a joint press conference in Fairbanks on Thursday, Mallott and his running mate, state Sen. Hollis French, announced that two unions that belong to the AFL-CIO had endorsed Mallott -- Public Safety Employees Association Local 803 and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 367. Mallott said he joined Local 367's picket line Wednesday at Enstar Natural Gas Co. in Anchorage.
The labor convention took predictable stands on two ballot measures -- favoring the minimum wage hike on the statewide ballot and repealing Anchorage's new restrictive labor laws -- and endorsed Republican Rep. Don Young for another term in Congress.
The Young endorsement was controversial, Beltrami said. Young's Democratic opponent, 29-year-old Forrest Dunbar, addressed the convention and the delegates liked what they heard, he said.
"He's really bright, he's on fire, and he hit every mark with our folks," Beltrami said of Dunbar. "Win, lose or draw, he said he's going to be around. We were happy to hear that."
While some public employee representatives wanted to reject Young over negative statements he made about federal employees, they decided to not block the endorsement even though they had the numbers to do so, Beltrami said. The AFL-CIO has traditionally endorsed Young, Beltrami said.
"It's no slight on him (Dunbar). We don't trade our old friends for new friends," Beltrami said.