The campaign season has begun for Gov. Bill Walker, and it looks like he’s leaning toward a Party-of-One candidate again.
No one really know about Walker’s re-election plans, but he’ll appear at a public event in Washington, D.C. this week to extoll the benefits to society when there are no political parties, just individuals running as themselves. Like he did, when the only path forward was to drop his party affiliation.
According to a report in the Alaska Dispatch News, Walker and Rep. Jason Grenn, another union-made politician, will be star witnesses at the press event organized by the Centrist Project.
Except that their “independence” is not. Both Walker and Grenn had the fully pledged support and resources of the Alaska Democratic Party and its backers at the AFL-CIO. They had no such support from Republicans.
In Walker’s case, in 2014 the Democrats convinced their own front-runner to step back and run for lieutenant governor, which meant they offered no Democrat candidate on the ticket in 2014, thus clearing the field for Walker. It was the only way they could win.
Walker promised his prior running mate, Craig Fleener, that he’d have his pick of jobs in the Walker Administration. Fleener now runs the Washington, D.C. Office of the Governor, a position previously held by Kip Knudson.
Walker had decided, after losing the 2010 Republican primary, the only way he could win was to throw in his lot with the Left, erase his Republican past, and sweep in the voters who are in the middle; so many in Alaska are undeclared, that in a two-way race he could grab the Democrats and a chunk of the middle.
In the meantime, the Democrats’ machine worked overtime behind the scenes and through the pages of the Anchorage Daily News (now the Dispatch) to destroy the reputation of the incumbent, Republican Sean Parnell.
Byron Mallott had actually won the August Democratic gubernatorial primary, but the party’s central committee rejected him as the party’s nominee, and assigned him to the lieutenant governor role on the “fusion ticket” with Walker at the top.
It worked, and Walker ascended to power. Mallott is his lieutenant governor.
LONE WOLF WALKER
It’s no secret among politicos that the governor’s Chief of Staff Scott Kendall has been shopping The Boss around to leading Republicans across the state, incuding those who write checks. He’s seeing if Walker could run in the Republican primary. The concern Walker has is if Mark Begich throws his hat in the ring as a Democrat, it’s going to be tough for this shape-shifting governor, as he and Begich would split the left-of-center vote.
So far, the track record for the Party-of-One Governor has been spotty. Gov. Walker’s first budget in 2015 was woefully late, he has been unable to balance the budget in 2015 and 2016, nor make effective cuts. He was unable to work well with either side of the aisle, but he particularly struggled with Republicans.
In 2017, he submitted an unfunded budget and asked the Legislature to figure it out. Now, he is at odds with some Democrats just as he’s going into a re-election cycle.
In the two and a half years he’s been in office, the Legislature has had seven special sessions. The state came perilously close to government shutting down in 2016 and 2017.
Walker has alienated the largest industry in Alaska. The oil and gas industry paid over $1.6 billion in taxes and royalties in fiscal year 2016 to the State and another $447 million to local governments, but have been downsizing their operations. It’s bad enough to have low prices and a high cost environment. Add looming taxes on top of that, and companies just cannot make it work. Gov. Walker has threatened them with higher taxes and has withheld payment of tax credits, driving some companies to the edge of bankruptcy and some out of the state altogether.
More than one third of Alaska jobs are tied to the oil industry, but the drop in employment in the oil patch has been 20 percent or higher under Walker. Currently, the state has the highest unemployment in the nation, and the worst educational outcomes. There has never been such a drop in gross domestic production as there has been under lone-wolf Walker. Alaska’s GDP in 2016 fell 5 percent.
Although he was an outspoken opponent of SB 21, the oil tax reform of 2013, Walker stated as a candidate he would not offer changes to the legislation that voters ratified in 2014: “I will begin to monitor North Slope activity immediately to ensure those promises are kept and make that information available to the public. It is my hope those promises are kept.”
Instead of using his bully pulpit to talk about the successes of SB 21 — increased oil throughput — he quickly reneged on his campaign promise and sought tax increases even when prices are low and industry operators are struggling.
When asked during his campaign if he would implement taxes or trim the Permanent Fund dividend, candidate Walker said: “I have no intention to implement a statewide tax or paying for state government by reducing Permanent Fund dividend checks. If we properly develop our natural resources and put in place a sustainable budget that should not be necessary.”
Yet he pushed for an income tax since the month he took office. And he did in fact cut dividends, rather deeply.
Walker has no party, and he has no platform.
He has demonstrated a willingness to do and say just about anything if it will get him elected, then once elected he quickly drops his promises and advances the agenda of his funders.
THE NEW JASON GRENN
Jason Grenn did the same thing: He dropped his Republican party affiliation and ran as a non-aligned candidate against Rep. Liz Vazquez, a Republican. The Democrats withdrew their candidate (he became ill, he said), and Democrats and unions threw their cash to Grenn. Otherwise, they had no hope of winning the conservative district.
The AFL-CIO brought out the big guns for Grenn, who immediately caucused with the Democrats. Not surprisingly, he has represented them well — more taxes and more government spending on everything.
Grenn, who promised his conservative supporters that he would represent their values, turned against Republicans the moment he was elected. He embraced his union sponsors, and is now suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome, identifying with his captors, who keep a close eye on him, as he is a flight risk.
The Centrist Project, which is sponsoring Grenn and Walker’s trip to D.C., espouses the ideals of nonpartisanship, a world where political parties don’t matter and “independents” rise above the partisan fray to enact sensible policies.
But as Alaskans have found, this too is a bait-and-switch. Candidates still need financing for their campaigns. It has to come from somewhere. The “Independent” label ends up being a stalking horse for the special interests on the Left.
To prove this, one need look no further than Grenn’s track record in his first year, where he voted with Democrats on nearly everything. The only time he broke partisan ranks was voting against the House version of the oil tax increase bill (HB 111) on a floor vote, but that appears to have been orchestrated to appease his business supporters and because it would have killed his re-election hopes. It didn’t matter — the required votes were there without Grenn’s.
Altogether, Grenn’s voting record is anything but nonpartisan. The same goes for the other “Independent” in the House, Rep. Daniel Ortiz of Ketchikan. He has voted 100 percent Democrat since being elected three years ago. Both are fully entrenched in the caucus system they ran against.
There is another curious thing about the July 12 press conference in Washington DC: July 15 is the last day of the current special session of the Legislature. If the House cannot find a way to end oil tax credits, it will cost the State $1 million a day.
We’re in the last days of the seventh special session in three years.
Are neither Walker nor Grenn needed in Juneau? And how would they know that in advance?