Alaska's Democratic candidate for governor Byron Mallot on Wednesday became the running mate for a lifelong Republican Bill Walker who is running as an Independent. There will be no Democratic candidate for governor and Mallot has taken the number two spot on the Alaska First Unity Party ticket.
The ADN has a page looking at how things got to this point.
So Who Is Bill Walker?
Bill Walker is a Republican running as an independent against the sitting Republican governor Sean Parnell. From Walker's "Why I'm Running" statement:
“It is time to pull together in order to move the state forward and seek not what is in the best interests of the Republicans or the Democrats, but aggressively pursue what is in the best interests of Alaskans,”. . .
“I am not running for governor to advance a political career. I am running to assure that Alaska regains control of our resources and our future without bowing to party or special interests.”People I've talked to say he's a straight-up guy and that this is genuine, not posturing
So, Daring or Desperation?
First, never accept simplistic binary options like this. Either/or statements, especially about human relationships, are almost always gross simplifications. There are lots of options between the two poles of the continuum. And there are other continua you could lay over this situation.
Second, I'd say it was both. Let's start with the desperation part and then go to the daring.
The Desperation Part
Mallot has an incredible resume of service to Alaska:
- life-long Alaskan who's held high level positions
- in most administrations since Statehood, including Executive Director of the one sacred agency in Alaska, the Permanent Fund,
- in banking, heading several banks and serving on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
- in Alaska Native leadership positions including CEO of Sealaska Native Corporation and President of the Alaska Federation of Native
- in local politics as Mayor of Juneau
The Daring Part
Daring: : "willing to do dangerous or difficult things"
The Democrats are making a number of unprecedented moves and putting their fate in the hands of a Republican who lost in the Republican primary in 2010. There are a number of open questions:
- What will be the long term effect of not having a Democratic candidate - the first time since statehood in 1959?
- What influence will the Democrats have from the second spot on a team headed by a Republican. [Actually Walker changed his affiliation to Undeclared just before this went down. But that doesn't change his long held conservative values.]
- Will a Walker/Mallot coalition in Juneau be better than Parnell/Sullivan? [It's hard to ask that question with a straight face, but it's true the election will be between two Republicans.]
- Will Democrats field a candidate against Walker in 2018, if the Independents win in 2014?
- Will Walker stick by his non-partisan rhetoric after the election? After four years?
- How will this affect the next redistricting in 2020 if Walker is reelected? Will he let his Lt. Gov pick one of the two governor picked members of the board?
What I see as significant about this move is the willingness of the Democrats to marry outside their religion - so to speak - in order to defeat Parnell. Third party candidates have impacted Alaska gubernatorial elections in the past, and with Walker and Mallot likely to split their voters if they compete, people expected that Parnell would cruise to reelection.
So, What Are The Answers?
Were they desperate? I don't know that that's the right word, but unless something quite remarkable happened, they weren't going to win the election. The odds for the Walker/Mallot team are much better. I would say that Mallot has the experience and knowledge and integrity that would be great in a governor, but not the skills that are great in a candidate. Some of this may be cultural. Modesty, not trying to bring attention to oneself, speaking slowly and deliberately have all been mentioned as characteristics of traditional Alaska Native cultures. But modern American electioneering - the self-promotion, the need for snappy sound bytes - don't favor that style.
Were they daring? To the extent that they broke with politics as usual? Absolutely. They weren't hung up about not having a Democratic candidate running for governor. They accepted Mallot running for Lt. Gov with a conservative Republican. (Who changed his affiliation to Nonpartisan just before this happened.) I was surprised by the reporters at the press conference who harped on Walker's changing to Nonpartisan and on Mallot's 'abandoning' the people who voted for him as the Democratic governor candidate. Yes, there might be a few people who aren't into daring, but there will always be people who can't handle change.
I think that the 89-2 vote by the Democratic central committee suggests that they felt it would take them from a certain Parnell victory to a good chance of a Parnell defeat. And I'm sure they would say that was more important than some hypothetical obligation to primary voters in this instance.
And it's daring in the risky sense, because if Walker is elected, there's no telling what he will actually do as governor. Lt. Govs have been left out in the cold before. I wonder to what extent Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell's speedy approval of this plan was partly in reaction to how he's been treated by Parnell. And Walker promised that Mallot would be in the governor's office, not 300 feet away.
People have had time to watch Walker. Mallot said that on the election trail the last year, he's grown to know and respect Walker, and Walker said the same of Mallot. My sense is that Walker's zeal is for energy issues and a gas pipeline and he can live without pushing conservative social issues. But that does remain to be seen.
I think the most attractive part of this ticket will be the bold action they've taken to break from traditional partisanship. They aren't just talking nonpartisan - they've done it. If the people who complain about how bad partisan politics has become are serious, then voting for Walker/Mallot is a way of showing it.
And while Republicans have a large edge over Democrats in voter registration, more people are registered as Nonpartisan and Undeclared than as Democrats and Republicans combined. (If you register as Independent in Alaska, that's really the Alaska Independence Party that's at times advocated for Alaska to secede from the US. Nonpartisan means you aren't connected to any party, and Undeclared means you don't want to say.)
So, I'd say this was a daring act spurred by the belief that there was not way the Democrats or Walker, both running separately, could defeat Parnell. It will stir up an election already packed with initiatives (legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage, and protecting Bristol Bay salmon ostensibly from Pebble Mine) and one of the most expensive US Senate races in the country between Sen. Mark Begich and Dan Sullivan. There's also an Anchorage Municipal referendum to repeal a controversial labor ordinance.
Below is video from the Tuesday (September 2, 2014) announcement at the Captain Cook Hotel. First, Mallot, and then Walker. So you can get a sense of these two candidates yourselves.
More photos of the press conference are at this previous post.