Gov.-elect Bill Walker continued his efforts Thursday to assure the state's resource industry that he is not their enemy, this time in a speech to the 35th annual conference of the Resource Development Council in Anchorage.
"You can't be anything but pro-oil development in this state to be a successful governor in this state," Walker said in his off-the-cuff, nine-minute address to hundreds of attendees at the conference.
While Walker was a charter member of the RDC's 1975 direct-line predecessor, the Organization for Management of Alaska's Resources, his support of this year's referendum to rescind Gov. Sean Parnell's oil-tax breaks led to a broad industry effort to oppose his election. At the same time, his oil-tax position made it easier for Democrats who liked the previous tax regime to support his unity ticket. Walker's Democratic running mate, Byron Mallott, also opposed the tax break.
And just this week, Walker continued to signal skepticism of Parnell's tax policy in his first staff announcement, that of chief of staff Jim Whitaker. Whitaker, a former Republican legislator and Fairbanks North Star Borough mayor, was one of three prime sponsors in 2013 of the oil-tax rollback referendum, joining the others in calling it an "oil giveaway" and saying it was a "terrible business decision" by the Alaska Legislature.
In his speech, in an interview and in private meetings with the boards of the RDC, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, Walker said he accepted the decision by voters to turn down the referendum, 99,855 to 89,608.
"That's the reason I met with the boards of the Alliance, of RDC and AOGA," Walker said in an interview after his address Thursday. "They're probably not my biggest support group in the election but I want them to understand I'm not going to renew the fight."
Kara Moriarty, AOGA president, said her board meeting with Walker was arranged at his behest.
"I don't want to put words in his mouth but he mentioned to us he wants to establish a business relationship with the industry, he wants to make sure it's not an us-versus-them relationship, that he's not interested in changing the production tax, that the people spoke and he'll let that stand," Moriarty said. "He wants more companies on the Slope -- that's a goal we all have. He wants more oil in the pipeline -- that's a goal we all have. And he wants to continue progress on the gas (pipeline) project."
In the interview after his speech, Walker said he would hold industry accountable to its pledge of expanding investment and production in return for the tax breaks.
"I'm going to make sure the people know it truly is working," he said.
In his support of resource development but his wariness of the big oil producers, Walker sounded a lot like his political mentor, former Gov. Wally Hickel. Walker invoked Hickel's name during his speech, saying it was Hickel who convinced him to run for governor the first time, in 2010. He lost the Republican primary that year to Parnell.
Like Walker, Hickel was a lifelong Republican who opposed the party establishment, then abandoned the party to run for governor. When Hickel was elected the second time, in 1990, it was on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket.
Citing oil taxes and the Parnell administration's effort to build a gas pipeline with industry support, Walker said he learned as a contractor that his own style was not to dismantle projects and begin from scratch.
"I'm not a start-over person," he told the RDC delegates. "I've remodeled a lot of houses. ... I always finish the job that I've been handed."
Walker said he wasn't daunted by the prospect of massive state revenue declines as oil prices erode and lead to reduced state royalties and taxes.
"No one likes to start off in that scenario, but my commitment is for the good times and the not-so-good times," Walker said. "There may be a silver lining of folks coming together a little bit more in that situation than they would otherwise at $147 oil -- then there might be a big argument about who spends what, versus at $70, it's like 'Help, what are we going to do?'"
Aside from Whitaker and naming his official spokeswoman -- former Anchorage television reporter Grace Jang -- Walker hasn't disclosed any other appointments. Walker said he is thinking of the future and will fill many positions with young Alaskans. He acknowledged that some will make mistakes because of inexperience, but that is the price for building new leaders. "I'll take the responsibility for their mistakes," Walker said.
Walker and Mallott will take the oath of office in a public ceremony starting at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 1 in Juneau's Centennial Hall convention center. Under the Alaska Constitution, their terms begin at noon Dec. 1.
The incoming Walker administration on Thursday evening announced the chairs of 17 transition committees that will meet over the weekend at the University of Alaska Anchorage to discuss policy directions. All the meetings are open, the first time "in recent memory" that a transition has taken place in public, the campaign said.
The meetings officially begin at 7 p.m. Friday with a panel discussion on the state's fiscal future at the new Alaska Airlines Center, Jang said. The moderator is Brian Rogers, chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and panelists are Brad Keithley, Jonathan King, Gregg Erickson and Amanda Ryder.
Jang tweeted a picture of an eight-person committee preparing for the transition weekend at UAA at a conference room table strewn with laptop computers and piles of paper in Walker's Anchorage law office. The eight in that committee are:
• Rick Halford, co-chair of Walker's transition team, Bristol Bay lodge owner and pilot, and former Alaska Senate president from Chugiak
• Claire Richardson, former spokeswoman for Mallott, journalist in Nome and Juneau, and social activist
• Samantha Weinstein, environmental law attorney and aide to Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage
• Emily Gaffney, Fairbanks attorney who grew up in Juneau and recently clerked in Anchorage
• Bruce Botelho, former Alaska attorney general and Juneau city and borough mayor
• Nancy Peterson, Walker's campaign manager and former Valdez assistant city manager
• Chris Ashenbrenner, Juneau resident and retired executive director of the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse
• Kelly Goode, Gov. Sarah Palin's legislative director
The transition subcommittee chairs announced Thursday are:
• Administration: Joey Merrick
• Arctic Policy and Climate Change: Craig Fleener
• Consumer Energy: Jack Hebert
• Corrections: Carmen Gutierrez
• Economic Development: Jim Dodson
• Education: Mary Pete and Bob Williams
• Fiscal Policy: Brian Rogers
• Fisheries: Norm Van Vactor
• Health Care: Jeff Cook and Valerie Davidson
• Infrastructure: Shirley Marquardt
• Intergovernmental Relations: Liz Medicine Crow
• Natural Resources: Nils Andreassen
• Oil & Gas: Robin Brena
• Public Safety: April Ferguson
• Rural Guard: Emil Notti
• Subsistence: John "Sky" Starkey
• Wildlife: Karen Linnell
Alex DeMarban contributed to this story.