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Walker leans toward naming special prosecutor for Alaska National Guard case

  • Author: Dermot Cole
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 28, 2014

Getting a complete grasp on the Alaska National Guard scandal is likely to require the appointment of a special prosecutor, candidate Bill Walker said during his campaign.

Walker, who is to be sworn in Monday as governor, said he's seen nothing to dissuade him from that view. It's an action that would be unusual in Alaska history, but not unprecedented.

"I'm still inclined to do that," Walker said in a phone interview Friday. "I'm going to have access to information once I become governor that I don't have access to now, but my inclination is that still makes sense."

At various times over the years, the state has named special prosecutors or special counsels to look into matters ranging from ethical violations to conflict of interest charges. Among the more recent events are the "Troopergate" matter under former Gov. Sarah Palin and Gov. Sean Parnell's decision to hire an attorney to investigate how federal and state environmental officials dealt with miners in Chicken in 2013.

Parnell fired Gen. Thomas Katkus in September after a Pentagon report detailed the mishandling of allegations of sexual misconduct, fraud and other wrongdoing over a period of years.

Walker said the state will continue the process of releasing public records, complying with a court order in a lawsuit filed by Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Public Media. He said it is most likely he will name an interim leader of the guard and "go through the process of filling that position with a permanent spot."

Walker said it won't be until next week that he will have full access to information on the guard situation and a host of other pressing matters about state government.

"We only have one governor at a time so there's only so much I can do before I'm sworn in," he said.

One of the many other issues on which he is to be updated is the natural gas pipeline — subject of a closed-door meeting Friday in Anchorage, attended only by legislators who signed a secrecy pledge to hear from the resources and revenue commissioners who are leaving office as Walker takes over.

Overshadowing all other matters, however, is the continuing collapse in the price of oil, with prices dropping to about $70 Friday.

"It's not the scenario we'd like to have or anybody else in Alaska would like to have, but there's not a lot we can do about that," said Walker.

In most of his campaign presentations, Walker said that the state under Parnell was spending about $7 million a day more than it was taking in.

The recent slide in oil prices has pumped that up to a daily shortfall of about $10 million a day, which is $1 billion every 100 days.

In a final message Friday from the governor's office, Parnell offered his take on his accomplishments, saying his administration leaves a legacy of economic strength and a "Triple A" rating from all bond agencies.

But on Oct. 27, Moody's Credit Outlook said that a significant drop below $81 in the price of oil would be "credit negative for some of the top oil-producing U.S. states, especially Alaska, which depends on oil tax revenues to fund virtually all of its operating budget."

Walker said the rapid changes in oil economics mean there is a daunting challenge ahead. He said he continues to reach out to Alaskans of all political views and thinks the inclusive nature of the recent transition meetings in Anchorage was a good first step.

Walker said he wants to make sure he makes the right choices as he interviews candidates and selects members of his cabinet and key advisers. He said it could take until mid-January to complete the task.

"I'd rather be deliberative in that process than to just get something finished right away," he said. "We're going to have a few more announcements, but then it's doing to slow down pretty significantly."

Walker has made appointments to four key departments — Mark Myers, former head of the U.S. Geological Survey, as resources commissioner; Randy Hoffbeck, former state oil and gas assessor, as head of the revenue department; Craig Richards, his law partner, as attorney general; and Gary Folger, who is remaining as public safety commissioner.

In addition, Walker chose former Fairbanks Mayor Jim Whitaker as chief of staff and University of Alaska Fairbanks Vice Chancellor Pat Pitney as budget director.

He said he is working on a draft of his inaugural speech, to be delivered Monday shortly after noon in Juneau.

"In some respects I want to introduce myself. There's a lot of Alaskans that don't know me," he said. "I want to introduce myself and a little bit about my background and my vision for the future."

The ceremony starts at 11:30 a.m. Monday in Centennial Hall in Juneau, with Supreme Court Justice Dan Winfree scheduled to give the oath of office to Walker. Retired Justice Walter Carpeneti is to give the oath of office to Bryon Mallott, the next lieutenant governor.

The master of ceremonies is to be Craig Fleener, who had been running with Walker before the Walker-Mallott "unity ticket" took shape on Labor Day weekend.

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