The Alaska Democratic Party broke with long tradition Monday when its central committee voted 89-2 to not field a gubernatorial ticket and instead put its weight behind the independent campaign of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott.
The vote to support the fusion ticket was contingent on Walker dropping his Republican Party affiliation. Mallott will quit as the Democratic Party's nominee for governor, as will his running mate, state Sen. Hollis French. But Mallott will remain a Democrat, executive director Kay Brown said after the vote at party headquarters in a Spenard bungalow.
"This is a struggle for a lot of people," said longtime Democrat Carolyn Covington, the party's former secretary. "I am one of those people who has never voted for a Republican -- never in my life. And I won't be doing it this time."
The resolution passed by the central committee calls on the party to not replace Mallott and French when they officially withdraw on Tuesday. It also directs the party to throw its full support behind the independent "Alaska First Unity ticket" of Walker for governor and Mallott for lieutenant governor, something the party could do under its rules only if Walker wasn't registered with another party.
The vote took place after Walker and Mallott formally agreed to merge their campaigns following days of negotiations. The agreement required the lieutenant governor candidates for both men to withdraw -- French as the Democrat and Craig Fleener as Walker's running mate.
But the unity ticket is still a ways from being settled. Tuesday is the deadline for changes to the Nov. 4 ballot, and there's nothing in law that provides for succession when a candidate for lieutenant governor resigns from a ticket put on the ballot by petition.
In 2006, when then-independent Andrew Halcro lost his running mate, it took a special emergency order by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman to authorize Halcro to name a replacement. Leman's order expired in 2007, but supporters of the Walker-Mallot ticket say they expect Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell to follow the precedent. If not, a court battle will likely follow.
The push to merge the tickets came largely from opponents of Republican Gov. Sean Parnell who saw the incumbent easily winning a three-way contest. A big thumbs down on a three-way contest came less than two weeks ago when the Alaska AFL-CIO refused to endorse any candidate unless Parnell had only one opponent. The state labor group will revisit its decision later this week.
While most Democrats were cheering the latest developments, some long-term Mallott supporters weren't happy. The two lieutenant governor candidates who had to resign were somewhat untethered, too.
A statement by French was read to the central committee in which he announced his resignation but sounded less than enthusiastic.
"I have always believed that public service is fundamentally nothing more than an opportunity to make the world a better place," French's statement said. "In this election cycle, I had believed that the best way forward for Alaska was with a Mallott-French ticket. In light of recent events, I must resign my position as Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. I have asked for nothing in exchange for my resignation. I believe the overriding imperative is to replace Sean Parnell."
Of the four original candidates, French was the most experienced campaigner, having been elected to four terms in the Alaska Senate and run a campaign for governor four years ago, which he lost. He had amassed the largest campaign chest of the four -- about $100,000 -- and had reserved television time for Mallott-French commercials.
Normally when a ticket is formed after the primary election, the running mates formally pool their campaign contributions, but that hadn't yet happened with Mallott and French. French declined to say what he will do with the money, but at this point, the Walker-Mallott ticket isn't counting on it or French's reserved television time, some of which he has already relinquished.
The Democratic Party's central committee has about 142 members, not counting vacancies, according to party spokesman Zack Fields. To get the 91 votes Monday -- it was Labor Day, traditionally a big holiday for Democrats -- most committee members called in on a special teleconference line, entering individual codes unless more than one person was sharing a phone. The process was somewhat unwieldy because of size of the group, technological problems involving the teleconferencing system and a bit of confusion about proxies.
"It's democracy in action," said Brown, the executive director.
The vote was held in public, with three reporters attending, and a cheer went up about 8:30 p.m., when the overwhelming decision was announced. The two hours of discussion that preceded the vote happened in executive session. About a third of the committee members participated in the discussion, Brown said.