Thursday, September 04, 2014

Alaska Dems Join Alaska First Unity Party - Daring or Desperation?

What Just Happened?

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.
    Mallot's Lt. Gov running mate, Hollis French, and Walker's running mate, Craig Fleenor, both agreed to withdraw.

    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
    But as a campaigner, he's failed to light up audiences. Republicans will claim this abandonment of a Democratic candidate on the ballot just shows how weak the Mallot's campaign is and they wouldn't be wrong.   Polls showed Republican governor Sean Parnell way ahead in a three way race against, it's closer in a two way race.  

    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?
    While the agreement includes Walker promising not to push for more abortion restrictions, there's no guarantee of what will actually happen if he gets elected.

    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.

    Here's Walker.

    More photos of the press conference are at this previous post.


    1. As per your guidelines on posting comments I’ll save a “rambling tirade” for my own blog post on this fiasco over the weekend (above & beyond anything else this sure makes good fodder for editorial cartoonists). But it seems a lot of folks cheerleading this maneuvering are conveniently ignoring how last-minute, behind-closed-door chicanery on the part of the Alaska Democratic Party (by a “Central Committee” no less) circumvented the expressed will of the voters after the primary.

      They could have buckled down and started to work harder to attract voters/earn votes to support the original ticket, but instead they further disenfranchised the electorate (already at a pathetic turnout rate) by pulling this maneuver. Had any other party/politicians pull a stunt like this in such a manner, well… actually I wouldn’t have been surprised at unethical actions from anyone else. So hooray for bipartisan corruption I guess, congratulations must be in order. Oops, sorry, starting to ramble. But myself, and the many others whom I’ve talked with after this, are sincerely pissed.

      My main question now is this: Walker is running on being “Say Yes on One/It’s Our Oil” personified, to the point it’s a single-issue platform (besides anybody-but-Parnell) that is somehow supposed to make him somehow more palatable to progressives/liberals and independents alike. But at what point does “concession” become “selling out”? His support of Pebble Mine? His stance on woman’s issues like fetal personhood? Supporting the War on Drugs by opposing the legalization initiative?

      That’s not “daring,” it’s desperate, disingenuous and dumb.

      1. Jamie, I get you're pissed. But for the right reasons? I'm pretty sure things followed the laws of the state and rules of the Democratic party.
        I too take the democratic process seriously and think that abandoning the voters' choice for a candidate shouldn't be done lightly. But the voters didn't have much of a choice for governor in August. French pulled out of the race in deference to Mallot and there were no other real challengers to Mallot. As things progressed, Mallot was less than a stellar candidate. He talks slow and deliberately. That's fine, but it tends to be a liability for a politician. It's easy to say to "buckle down and work harder." Like what?
        They're already working hard. Mallot read the polls and was losing his drive. He says [not in the video] he got to a point where he realized in a 3-way race neither he nor Walker could prevail. "Having made that determination, in my heart, I knew I couldn't continue my campaign." But he recognized that he'd accepted the nomination of the party and it wasn't completely his decision to make. So he called the chair of the Democratic Party and then Walker. And then they started talking about what to do.
        So the party was confronted with a candidate who no longer had a fire in his belly. He would have kept running, he said, if they said he must, but his heart wasn't in it any longer. This guy ran the Permanent Fund. He's not into reading tea leaves, he reads numbers. And they just didn't add up.
        They were faced with a three way race in which Parnell was, barring a sex scandal in the National Guard, surely going to win. There was a lot more common ground between Mallot and Walker than between either of them and Parnell.
        Now, if you think Walker is as bad as Parnell, you may be right. But I'd ask how well you know Walker. Have you spent any time with him in person? Have you talked to people who know him? I sense this is a man of principle and he sticks by his word. But you could be right.
        Going down the designated path was, in most people's minds, leading to a sure victory for Parnell and the establishment Republicans.
        This option offered an alternative that might well be better and would leave Walker beholden to the Dems if he won.
        The fact that 89 of the committee members agreed tells us something. "Last minute"? Well, sure, deadlines tend to get people to focus. I've read your blog. Deadlines work on you too. "Behind-closed-doors chicanery"? It would have been nice if they had done this in public. I suspect they didn't want to tip off all their thoughts and strategies to the Republicans, but I think you could contact any of the central committee members and they'd tell you everything that happened. Chicanery? This isn't anything like what the Republicans did when they were taken over by the Tea Party and then wouldn't let them touch the party bank account while they maneuvered to toss the insurgents out. There was no rift in the party, but there was a reality check about the results of the election.
        "Circumvented the expressed will of the voters"? Was there will to reelect Parnell? I doubt it.
        I get the idea of the rule of law. It's critical to how our nation works. But I don't think any laws or rules were broken. If you have a player who's missing his shots, you substitute another and/or switch him to a different position. The central committee is the body that's supposed to make such decisions when they need to be made between elections.
        So that's how I see it. I don't see this as throwing the voters over the cliff. But I understand that view of it. It's a "letter of the law" or "spirit of the law" kind of issue, though as I say, I don't think the letter of the law was violated. Tell me where you disagree.

      2. I really appreciate (as always) your open-minded approach – your writing and assessment is by far the most even and measured take, far above & beyond the cheerleading I’ve read coming from anyone else. And that “move along nothing left to see here” attitude is what is irritating.
        As far as the legality of the maneuver, nope, haven’t the slightest, but I assume it was by the books. Ethical, or “spirit of the law,” no, as my very same assumptions were trumped after went to the polls to vote for a ticket + a candidate, each of which had won. Then it was switched it up, after the fact. That sucks. I get they were scared from a poll showing the three-way loss. They coulda/shoulda then went to work on campaigning, not this switcheroo. I disagree with the process, and especially with the candidate, regardless of party affiliation.
        I personally know one of the only two nay voters on the committee which went eighty-eight for dumping the original ticket. That person was the ONLY one to bring up the novel concept of disenfranchising the voters, which also tells us something. I’d certainly love to be proven wrong.
        I think the scenario is analogous to Walker dropping “R” for “I” for the sake of political expediency: yeah, sure, that’s totally legit, but come on, it’s transparently shifty. And as far as my second disagreement, with the specific candidate, yep, right on cue he’s already backpedaling with equivocations on the women’s rights issue (as per News-Miner Sept. 5th article “Walker: No Automatic abortion restriction vetoes”).
        Which again brings me back to my original query: at one point does “concession” become “selling out”?

      3. Thanks Jamie. While it's hard to believe that Walker could be worse than the devil we know - his recent comments on abortion and his letter to the editor about the veto of the public records of criminals are worrisome. You could be right. But I do think this shakes things up and while that isn't always good, it often makes intractable situations tractable. Ethical and honest conservatives are better than what we have.


    Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.