Chatter in Juneau is that the Aug. 16 legislative special session, the third this year, will become a coordinated effort between Bill Walker and the Democrats and Walker-aligned Republicans to ensure the Permanent Fund dividend is zero and the Power Cost Equalization is not resolved.
That would put Walker, now 70 years old, in a position to sweep in as the fixer — someone who promises to resolve the standoff.
This talk is in the background, while expectations grow in political circles that Walker, egged on by his former chief of staff Scott Kendall will announce for governor this weekend.
Many Republicans recall that Walker, who ran on saving the Permanent Fund dividend, was actually the one who cut the PFD, both unilaterally and through political bargaining. He put half of the dividend in the Earnings Reserve Account, saying the State needed it for government programs. It sat there, unspent. Ever since then, the dividend has been a political football.
Walker’s surrogates are lining up. Kendall has been suing Gov. Mike Dunleavy since he took office, and quickly organized the recall effort, starting in February of 2019, when Dunleavy submitted his first budget, which was Dunleavy’ first attempt to trim the sails of the budget. Kendall has sued the governor multiple times, most recently on behalf of Alaska Federation of Natives over the Power Cost Equalization fund, which the Legislature did not replenish this year.
Over at the Ship Creek Group, a restructuring has taken place. John Henry-Heckendorn, who ran Walker’s last campaign, is back at the helm, and he has rearranged the Democrat political campaign consultancy to be a plug-and-play team for a Walker campaign.
Heckendorn left the state after Walker’s stinging re-election loss in 2018 (Walker withdrew in the final few days of October), and went to work for AirBnB in San Francisco. But after the pandemic hit the hospitality market, he eased back into Alaska to return to political work.
Sources say he and Kendall have been in conversations with former boss Gov. Bill Walker and Donna Walker, who is a key player in Walker World.
Ship Creek Group landed on the scene in 2015 to turn Alaska blue. At the end of 2018, SCG had had a terrible run — backing some disastrous candidates who won, but then prematurely ejected from public life: Rep. Zach Fansler and Rep. Dean Westlake, both of whom were picked by Ship Creek Group as ways to control the rural Alaska vote. There was also Rep. Justin Parish of Juneau, who also left the scene quickly on the “me-too” wave with Westlake and Fanlser.
After Heckendorn left the state, the business continued with Managing Partner Allie Banwell and Operations Manager Jenny-Marie Stryker. Those two — and all the founders but Heckendorn himself — are gone now.
In the campaign consultancy world, consultants must “eat what they kill.” And so for 2022, Ship Creek Group is reorganized with four “managing partners.”
Kim Jones: Jones was Finance Director for Alyse Galvin for Congress in 2020 and worked as a fundraising consultant for municipal races in 2021. (Alyse was spotted recently hobnobbing with leftwing strategist Jim Lottsfeldt, who gave Heckendorn his political start in the state. The plot thickens.)
Alexandria “Alex” Murphy: She was a deputy treasurer for Ballot Measure 2’s Alaskans for Better Elections, a Scott Kendall production.
Ira Slomski-Pritz: He came to Ship Creek Group after five years working in municipal and state government in Alaska. He was a special assistant to the Gov. Bill Walker’s Chief of Staff Scott Kendall, who has led the recall campaign against Dunleavy. Pritz was the LGBTQ coordinator for the former failed mayor Ethan Berkowitz of Anchorage.
Allie Banwell is gone as managing partner. Also gone are former founder Josh Corbett, and Rafi Bildner and Paula Delaiarro, who came in early held the firm together after Heckendorn headed for San Francisco.
Walker will be a tough sell. His crowning achievement was nationalizing the Alaska Gasline, and then nearly giving it away to the most oppressive regime in the world, the Chinese.
How will a guy like Walker do in a ranked-choice ballot environment, (also another deliverable by Kendall, who brought it to the ballot with millions of dollars of Outside money to convince voters to approve it) will be tested by pollsters in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, while Walker has maintained a low profile, he has been lining up support of some of the heavy hitters with deep pockets.
Dunleavy’s approval rating among voters has rebounded to well over 50 percent, in part because he took a more DeSantis (Florida governor) approach to managing the pandemic, balancing personal freedom with public safety and health.
Is this the weekend Walker will announce? Must Read Alaska readers, what are your thoughts?