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Race for governor: Prospects grow

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Gov. Bill Walker may face several strong competitors during the 2018 race for governor. He is pictured here in an urban assault vehicle during a visit to the Kenai Alaska State Troopers post. (Governor’s Office photo)

WHO IS IN THE QUEUE? Nat Herz of the Alaska Dispatch News brought forward a few candidates, citing Bill Walker, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Chenault, and Scott Hawkins in his Sunday story about 2018’s race for Alaska governor.

But who else might run? We’ve created a list of possible contenders:

Republican Prospects:

Bill Walker, governor: Wedged into a no-man’s land, he’s cunning. We don’t know if he’ll go full Democrat or try to be a Republican again. Walker is a known political risk-taker. And he loves the job, so look for him to run.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy

Mike Dunleavy, senator: This is almost a certain run. He’s distanced himself from his fellow state senators on key issues by leaving the Republican-controlled caucus in the Senate. Anchors a strong conservative base in the Mat-Su. Long-time educator, married to Alaska Native.

Rep. Mike Chenault

Mike Chenault, representative: His retail political skills are better-than-average for the Railbelt. Name recognition strong. Likeable, politically savvy, warm, tough. He has to decide.

Scott Hawkins

Scott Hawkins, businessman: President of Advanced Supply Chain International, chair of Prosperity Alaska, bipartisan appeal, economist. Deep political connections. Strong fund raiser. (Disclosure: Is an underwriter of Must Read Alaska).

Ralph Samuels

Ralph Samuels, former representative and once a gubernatorial candidate: His reaction has been “no way.” His wife’s reaction: “Don’t even…”

John Binkley

John Binkley, former senator and once a gubernatorial candidate. Businessman, Fairbanks, deep Interior roots. His reaction is: Strong maybe. His wife’s reaction is: Are you nuts?

Bob Gillam

Bob Gillam, owner of McKinley Capital Management. He says he’s 99 percent sure he’ll run…on some days. On other days he just wants someone who understands economics to do it. He would have to give up a lot, including turning over his company management to his son. But he has the deepest pockets.

Pete Kelly

Pete Kelly, senator: Will he? Principled, reasonable, skilled, deeply sincere for public service. Word is that the Fairbanks political veteran is looking for someone to run, just not him.

Loren Leman

Loren Leman, former lieutenant governor: He has strong name ID, and conservative chops. Also, Alaska Native and a former senator. Checks a lot of boxes.

Sean Parnell

Sean Parnell, former governor: Perhaps the most qualified, with six years in the job, and more as lieutenant govenor, senator, representative, and community council. He’s young (54), and has lots of enthusiasm for public service. But why would he jump back in the fray? More likely an eye for Congress.

Joe Miller

Joe Miller, former candidate for Senate. The Democrats are courting him to run so they can match him up against Mark Begich, giving Begich a winnable hand.

Ben Stevens

Ben Stevens, former Alaska Senate president and son of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens: He’s been running a tug and barge company in Cook Inlet for several years. Had a run-in with the U.S. Justice Department but was cleared. Those who know him know he is principled. His name is popping up as a possibility.

Charlie Huggins

Charlie Huggins, former senator: Greatly respected, Valley support, good name ID, military record, capable. He is thinking about it.

The Alaska Republican Party State Convention is scheduled for March 8-10, 2018 in Anchorage. Word is that all Republican candidates will be “voted up or down” at the convention in an advisory vote. This tells us Gov. Walker will not subject himself to that vote. Scott Kendall, chief of staff, has been chatting people up, and will be running that decision.

Democrat Prospects:

Bill Walker is a strong bet for the Democrats, even though he is not with any party.
Ivy Spohnholz, representative. The Democrats’ rising star from Anchorage clearly has those ambitions. She may make a play for House Speaker. More likely will run for lieutenant governor.
Bryce Edgmon, House Speaker, has to figure out what he’ll do next. Does he go for governor? Lt. Gov.?
Mike Navarre, former representative and mayor of the Kenai Borough, has been popping up a lot lately. He was approached by Mark Begich to run for his lieutenant governor but he said, to the effect, “How about you run for LG and I run for Guv?” His mayoral term ends in October.
Bill Wielechowski, senator: Almost a certainty. He has voted against an income tax and against Permanent Fund restructure.
Ethan Berkowitz, mayor of Anchorage: He’s exploring it, at least.
Mark Begich, super lobbyist and former senator: He won’t “decide” until the first quarter of 2018. Smart move on his part — letting himself appear to be be drafted is his best play.

LITE GOV. BYRON MALLOTT: Does Mallott go with Walker or Begich? Or whichever prevails? What does an Ivy Spohnholz do in that situation? Perhaps she does a Hollis French. At least French landed a good job out of it.

SPEAKING OF DEMOCRATS, Mark Begich was making a fund-raising appearance on Tuesday for the Democrats at Bill Sheffield’s house.

Naturally, it was co-hosted by Leslie Ridle, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration for the “nonpartisan” governor. Ridle was a long-time top aide to Sen. Begich. The plot thickens:

ANCHORAGE MAYOR, 2018:  Forget about governor….The Anchorage municipal race is less than 11 months away. Two big changes make it unpredictable:

  • Everyone filing for a Permanent Fund dividend in 2018 will be registered to vote (if eligible). That will add tens of thousands of people to the voting role in Anchorage.
  • Anchorage will be a vote-by-mail city. The municipality will maintain a few in-person locations for voting, but will encourage everyone to mail in their ballots.

These changes have implications for candidates and campaign managers. Ballots can be mailed in by voters three weeks before the April 3 deadline, and as the Montana congressional special election just revealed, a lot can happen in the last three weeks.

Republican prospects:

Dan Sullivan, former mayor, is everyone’s top-of-mind: He’s getting his band back together.
Scott Hawkins, businessman, and a number of people are trying to recruit him.
Bill Evans, former assemblyman, lawyer. Is not a Republican, refiled as nonpartisan.
Bill Starr, former assemblyman from Eagle River, a tough neighborhood to run from for mayor.
Anna MacKinnon, current senator from Eagle River, who might be able to pull it off. She has the experience.

Democrat prospects:

Ethan Berkowitz, mayor, but he may make a play for Rep. Don Young’s seat in Congress.
Eric Croft, assembly member, retread, school board, Democrat.
Forrest Dunbar, assembly member, and darling of the Left.
Elvi Gray Jackson, former assembly member.
Emily Tyrrell, director of sustainability at First Alaskans Institute. What, you’ve not heard of her? Once upon a time she worked for Pebble. Now, she’s hard-D.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Surprised that Bill Popp isn’t on the mayor list. His contract is up with AEDC in April.

  • Where is his helmet?

  • Alaskan Native vs native Alaskan. One is indigenous and one simply born here?

  • Walker did something that is going to impact the coming election. His 2014 candidacy embracing the Democrats breathed new life into that party, at least in the Mat-Su. The Dems were DOA until Walker accepted the Dem’s offer of money and support.
    Walker walked away from his conservative base in 2014. His colors are well represented in his policies.
    Why he is listed as an R is beyond me, he is not conservative anything.
    Time for a new governor.
    However, Parnell is not that governor. Not after the NG scandal.

  • Huggins won’t run. And if he did, he’d never win. Too much baggage. Too many skeletons in the old Juneau closet.

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