IS WALKER NOW EFFECTIVELY A DEMOCRAT?
The man who first ran for governor as a pro-life Republican, then switched to “undeclared” and ran with the full backing of the Alaska Democratic Party, has been fully transitioned.
Can an endorsement from Planned Parenthood be far behind?
Gov. Bill Walker, with his poll numbers in the tank, is trying to hang on for a second term by joining the Democrats’ primary ballot.
In what’s known as a Friday night news dump, Walker’s campaign made the announcement after the evening news cycle on Friday, a well-worn tactic for keeping stinky news out of the mainstream in the hopes that something else will capture the attention of reporters; the Anchorage Daily News does not publish on Saturday, so Friday night was the place to bury this particular news.
The move to join the Democrats appears to be one part strategy, but one large part desperation: Walker is afraid he can’t win in a three-way contest, which would happen if Mark Begich files. If this was news he was proud of, he would have announced it earlier in the day and taken advantage of earned media. No, this was not one of his prouder moments, and it left him wide open for criticism.
But Walker’s campaign manager, John-Henry Heckendorn, says this alliance with the Democrats, like last time, is without strings. After the primary, Walker will continue as an independent, he says.
Heckendorn, who founded the Ship Creek Group of Democrat campaign services, brought Alaska the likes of disgraced Reps. Zach Fansler and Dean Westlake, both of whom were forced to resign from office within a year.
Walker and the Democrats supported the two drink-and-kinkers, and they ousted family men Bob Herron of Bethel and Ben Nageak of Barrow, both who had served in the Legislature honorably.
That Heckendorn-Democrat effort allowed the Democrats to flip the House of Representatives to Democrat control with the help of three turncoat Republicans.
Gov. Bill Walker is still undeclared, but he’ll run on the Democrats’ primary ballot and, if he wins, have the full support of the Democrats, including funds from the Democratic Governors Association.
But winning the primary is a big “if.” There’s always the Mark Begich factor.
MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY
Bill Walker was a Republican for most of his life, but failed in his attempt at winning the governorship in 2010. Back then, although spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on his campaign, he was unable to knock off the incumbent Sean Parnell. Walker finished second in the primary, with 34 percent of the vote, while Parnell won the nomination with 50 percent.
Walker’s next try was different. In 2013, he filed as a Republican, but then took the advice of former Gov. Wally Hickel and decided to skip the Republican primary and run as an undeclared, or independent as he calls it.
DEMOCRATS PLAY MIX AND MATCH
But immediately following the primary election, the Democrats, with the prompting of public employees unions, kicked their own winner off the top of the ballot. After all, a three-way race gave the governorship back to Parnell.
On Sept. 2, 2014, the deal was sealed: There would be no Democrat running at the top of the ticket.
With Democrats pulling the strings, Byron Mallott would run instead as Walker’s running mate, and Walker’s running mate, Craig Fleener, would drop his candidacy and accept a job in the Walker Administration as an ambassador without portfolio.
At the same time, the Democrats kicked Hollis French from their ballot — he was the candidate who had won for lieutenant governor. He was promised a job, too. Eventually, they found a spot for him running the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
In 2014, with Democrats running the campaign operation, Walker and Mallott brought an unconventional ticket. The court upheld the hijinks and voters gave the new ticket a win, although the Walker-Mallott ticket only gained 48 percent of the general election vote. Libertarian and Constitution parties, which lean conservative, peeled off enough votes from Parnell to leave him with 46 percent.
Less than a year ago, Gov. Walker headlined a symposium sponsored by the Centrist Project, which promotes breaking up the political parties in favor of non-party candidacies. He touted the benefits of not being associated with a party and said at the time he’d remain a solo act.
Then, a few months later in 2017, the Alaska Democratic Party changed its rules to allow undeclared candidates to run under its banner.
The courts upheld the decision, and the Alaska Supreme Court’s concurrence with Judge Philip Pallenberg’s October decision was what Walker need not to go it alone through the summer. And the decision came just in time. Although he has released two questionable polls that show him in the lead, credible polls, such as Dittman Research and Morning Consult, show him deeply unpopular. Another national poll by Republican gives Walker just a 22 percent approval rating.
As an undeclared running in the Democrats’ primary, he now won’t have to collect signatures. If he finds himself unopposed in the primary, he will be able to utilize all the Democrats’ resources, including access to national funds that come through organizations like Act Blue, and the National Democratic Governors Association.
But all that only works if Mark Begich stays out of the race. Begich, a Democrat and one-term U.S. senator with some of the best name recognition in the state, may challenge a weak Walker. If so, polling shows Begich would win, and he is in a stronger position to challenge the Republican nominee, whoever that is.
Walker and Begich are never seen together. While Begich went to China a few weeks ago, he didn’t sign onto the governor’s trade mission to China in May. He doesn’t show up at Walker fundraisers or on any of his donor lists. His name is not among the endorsements. And in September, he wrote to his supports and told them to “keep your powder dry.”
Begich has recently penned newspaper commentaries that say Alaska is on the wrong track. In other words, he has not lent one iota of support to the current governor.
WILD WILD WEST OF ELECTIONS – QUESTIONS
1. Will Begich jump into the primary on the last day of filing, June 1. In a head-to-head, Begich would win the primary, and many Democrat Walker supporters would switch allegiances. Smelling blood in the water, they’ll go with the perceived winner.
If so, then Walker’s administration would be effectively over on Aug. 21. Already, senior Walker officials are starting to peel away; look for at least one major departure in the next few days.
2. Has Begich already given Walker his blessing? One scenario says he stays out — that’s what his brother Tom Begich is peddling.
3. With so many Democrats in Alaska identifying as Bernie Sanders believers, another candidate could jump into the Democrats’ primary. Nonpartisan Tom Gordon has already announced. Bill Wielechowski is a known foe of Walker’s, and is circling. Can the Democrats keep Ray Metcalfe out?
4. In the Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott will have to run separately, and can pair with whomever emerges as the winner. There’s no provision to run a joint campaign for the primary, so this is a question for the Alaska Public Offices Commission and the Division of Elections to determine if and how a “ticket” can proceed in the primary.
5. Walker and Mallott have separate APOC accounts and have $280,000 and $162,000 respectively. But they started with $50,000 each saved from their November, 2014 victory. These are not large numbers for an incumbent ticket.
6. If Walker and Mallott win, they go forward to the general election as the candidates who won in the Democrat primary. It will be up to Division of Election Josie Bahnke to devise a label that does not confuse voters, according to the court’s decision. Will she do that so late in the cycle that Republicans cannot effectively sue her if she tries to disguise Walker’s Democratic ties? Since her boss is the lieutenant governor, how will the public be assured she is operating fairly?
7. If a registered undeclared wins as governor in the Democratic primary and a registered Democrat wins for lieutenant governor, how will Division of Elections label them as a ticket?
WALKER ANNOUNCES CAMPAIGN TEAM
Earlier in the day on Friday, the Walker-Mallott campaign released the names of people on their campaign staff. They include:
- John-Henry Heckendorn, campaign manager, founder, Ship Creek Group
- Paula DeLaiarro, treasurer and principal at Ship Creek Group
- Lindsay Hobson, spokesperson and daughter of governor
- Kevin McGowan, fundraising director
- Joshua Corbett, creative director and principal at Ship Creek Group
- Bob Walker, sign manager and brother of governor