A trio of old-school Alaska Democratic leaders with ties to the port and pipeline city of Valdez have thrown their support behind independent candidate for governor Bill Walker.
A former Valdez mayor, Walker is expected to battle Gov. Sean Parnell in the November general election. The pair differ strongly on the main-event election issue of oil taxes, with Parnell urging Alaskans to keep the current tax structure and Walker calling for repeal.
Former Lt. Gov. Steve McAlpine, a Democrat who served as lieutenant governor from 1982 to 1990, announced on Friday the formation of a group called Democrats for Walker. Former state Sen. Mike Szymanski, D-Anchorage, and former Valdez Democratic Rep. Gene Kubina also are supporting Walker, McAlpine wrote.
"The current administration borders on crony capitalism," McAlpine said, "with millions of dollars being spent on consultants, advisers, and studies, some that duplicate work that has been done before."
Parnell's camp responded with a shrug.
"This is not news," spokesman Luke Miller wrote in an email. "Bill Walker supports an expansion of Obamacare, supported the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, and continues to advocate for bigger government."
The statewide primary election is Tuesday, including a referendum on oil tax reform. As the Republican incumbent, Parnell is expected to advance to compete in a three-way race with Walker and Democratic front-runner Byron Mallott in November. (As an independent candidate, Walker bypasses the primary.)
The election is a rematch for Walker and Parnell, who clashed in the 2010 Republican primary. Parnell won 50 percent of the vote in that contest, while Walker finished second with 33 percent. Republican Ralph Samuels was third with 14 percent.
In the months leading up to the elections, some Democrats saw Walker as a potential ally to oust Parnell, but talk of the longtime Republican teaming up with Mallott, Anchorage Sen. Bill Wielechowski or another Democrat for an unorthodox gubernatorial ticket never materialized.
"We are joining in this effort and expect many other Democrats to join us because we believe that Bill Walker is the only gubernatorial candidate with the knowledge, experience and personal fortitude to take Alaska in a new direction," the news release said.
Walker said he does not anticipate pairing with a Democrat.
"Strange things happen in elections," he said, adding that he had been in talks with a Democratic lawmaker early in his decision-making process. "I'm all about doing what is best for Alaska, not being in one political box over another political box."
Don't expect any big shakeup among the Democratic ranks, said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, who is running for lieutenant governor and says he received donations from Szymanski. "I don't think anyone realistically believes that Byron Mallott is going to step aside."
Walker is making a play for the middle, French said: "While certainly respectable individuals, I don't think anybody would put (the Democrats supporting Walker) in the front rank of statewide Democrats."
Szymanski served as a House representative and a state senator from 1983 to 1990. In addition to Anchorage, his Senate district included Prince William Sound. Kubina was active in the state House from 1989 to 1998. He was briefly Walker's brother-in-law in the 1960s, Walker said.