SHAPE-SHIFTING GOVERNOR WALKER BENDS ONE LAST TIME — INTO A DEMOCRAT
Last week was the strangest week in Alaska politics since the Department of Justice helped Mark Begich defeat U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008.
Last week was even weirder than early July, 2009, when Gov. Sarah Palin resigned.
Even the trick-or-treat ticket of Gov. Bill Walker and Byron Mallott, created by unions and Democrats after voters had already chosen their nominees during the 2014 primary election, isn’t as weird as this year’s gubernatorial careening path, which Walker-Mallott went down.
IN THE WAY-BACK MACHINE
Walker’s Chief of Staff Scott Kendall asked the Republican Party late in 2017 and again early in 2018 if Walker would be allowed to run for re-election as a Republican.
The party said, “It’s a free country, but we wouldn’t think it would be successful.” In fact, party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said that the Republicans “might be hot, but certainly wouldn’t be warm to the idea.”
By February Walker decided to remain a no-party guy. He’d be “independent.”
Walker went to Washington, D.C. in February to get the Unite America money behind his no-party run. He already had the endorsement of the Centrist Project, because he was a “role model for our movement.”
But then, Walker dumped on the Centrists. In May, he announced he’d jump onto the Democrats’ ballot. The Democrats had changed their rules to allow him to do so, even without changing his party registration.
The Democrats’ primary looked like the most likely way to ensure a two-way gubernatorial race, Walker’s campaign manager John-Henry Heckendorn said. They feared Mark Begich would get on that ticket.
But it turns out that Mark Begich was more clever than Heckendorn and Walker combined.
By June 1, Begich was having none of it, and filed for governor on the last day possible. He wasn’t going to let the Democrats put a shape-shifter like Walker at the top of the Democrats’ ticket again.
And when that happened, Walker decided not to complete the paperwork to join the Democrats’ ballot, but to become a petition candidate, and go straight to the General Election.
On Primary Election night, Aug. 21, Walker and Mallott walked into the Dena’ina Center with their signs victorious, even though they had not chosen to participate in the primary.
“We’ll see you on the November ballot,” they proclaimed. It was theater. They delivered their petition signatures with just as much theater.
The ballots were printed, with three tickets: Mike Dunleavy-Kevin Meyer are the Republicans, Mark Begich-Debra Call are the Democrats, and Bill Walker-Byron Mallott are the unknowns who got to the General via signatures gathered.
Both Walker and Begich began pounding on Dunleavy, criticizing him for not showing up in every debate they scheduled. Dunleavy stayed above the fray, but took a beating from them, even while absent from their near-daily cage fights.
As voters start voting on Monday, the ballots still say Walker-Mallott is a choice, but Walker has a new lieutenant governor — Valerie Davidson. Mallott has cleaned out his desk, sent home in shame.
Yet, Davidson could not campaign because she is not a registered candidate with the Division of Elections and Alaska Public Offices Commission.
She cannot raise money.
She cannot receive money from the Walker campaign for campaigning because she is covered by the Executive Ethics Act, as a state official. She can’t take gifts.
The situation was untenable for Walker. He was still running, after all, with Mallott.
The man whom Walker had identified as his best friend — 75-year-old Mallott — had been improper with a 16-year-old girl. There was no recovering from that. Walker was going to slip from second place to third place and likely the worst showing of a sitting governor in the history of the state.
So he did something he called “putting Alaskans first.” He characterized it as an act of courage: He quit the race.
In his swan song, Walker chose the most sympathetic audience of all — Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention. It was a convention for the ages, with a political spectacle never before seen by the attendees.
On Thursday, Walker made a sweeping official apology to all Alaska Natives for historical wrongs committed against them. The convention goers were happy with that. Very happy. Things were going well for them.
But that evening, few AFN conventioneers attended Walker’s informational reception at the Anchorage Hotel downtown, even though he had just made the biggest overture for Alaska Natives of his career — a full-throated “We’re sorry” on behalf of the State of Alaska. Those who did attend seemed to sense uncertainty in the air.
On Friday, Walker made a surprise appearance — his final announcement. He was suspending his campaign because there was no way to recover after his disastrous week. The three-way race was mathematically bad for him and getting worse.
In doing so, he went from being a lifelong Republican in 2014 to endorsing Democrat Mark Begich in 2018.
Begich, the most reviled Democrat out there for any red-blooded Republican, had just pulled off a coup. Walker, in an act of final defiance, was going to stick it to Republicans one more time.
All the endorsements Walker had were not enough to save him: AFL-CIO, National Education Association of Alaska, Alaska State Employees Association, Sealaska Corporation, Alaska State Firefighters Association, Alaska District Council of Laborers, Painters and Allied Trades International, and Calista Corporation.
All the personal endorsements Walker had were not enough: Aaron Plikat, Anchorage • Adam Wool, Fairbanks • AJ Sutton, Fairbanks • Albert Kookesh, Juneau • Amanda Mallott, Juneau • Andy Holleman, Anchorage • Andy Mack, Anchorage • Andy Mezirow, Homer • Anthony Mallott, Juneau • April Ferguson, Anchorage • Arlene Simpler, Kodiak • Barbara Blake, Juneau • Barbara Donatelli, Anchorage • Bill Tatsuda, Ketchikan • Bob Hubbard, Fairbanks • Brenda L. Tolman, Whittier • Bruce Botelho, Juneau • Buck Laukitis, Homer • Carl Marrs, Old Harbor • Carpenters Local 1234, Fairbanks • Chris Dimond, Juneau • Cindy Roberts, Anchorage • Claudia Anderson, Kodiak • Cordelia Kellie, Palmer • David Guttenberg, Fairbanks • David McCabe, Anchorage • Don Gray, Fairbanks • Donny Olson, Golovin • Dorli McWayne, Fairbanks • Earl Krygier, Anchorage • Emily Edenshaw, Juneau • Eric Jordan, Sitka • Gail Schubert, Bering Straits • Geron Bruce, Juneau • Gordon Glaser, Anchorage • Greg Razo, Anchorage • Greg Wakefield, Anchorage • Heather Flynn, Anchorage • Heidi Drygas, Juneau/Fairbanks • Ian Fisk, Juneau • Ira Perman, Anchorage • Jack Hebert, Fairbanks • Jaeleen Kookesh, Juneau • Jamie Kenworthy, Anchorage • Jan Carolyn Hardy, Anchorage • Janet McCabe, Anchorage • Jason Grenn, Anchorage • Jeanette Wakefield, Anchorage • Jodie Gatti, Ketchikan • Joe Nelson, Yakutat • Karl Kassel, Fairbanks • Kate Wool, Fairbanks • Kathryn Scribner, Juneau • Kati Ward, Anchorage • Kes Woodward, Fairbanks • Linda Behnken, Sitka • Lindy Jones, Juneau • Liz Medicine Crow, Anchorage • Malcolm Roberts, Anchorage • Marc Wheeler, Juneau • Margy K. Johnson, Anchorage • Mark Schneiter, Anchorage • Marlene Johnson, Hoonah • Marna Sanford, Fairbanks • Mary Hakala, Juneau • Mary Hilcoske, Anchorage • Mary Jo Robinson, Anchorage • Mary Schulz, Ketchikan • Matt Hunter, Sitka • Meera Kohler, Anchorage • Melissa Borton, Kodiak • Mike Gallagher, Anchorage • Mike Kenny, Anchorage • Mike Navarre, Kenai • Mim McConnell, Sitka • Minoo Minaei, Homer • Miriam Aarons, Anchorage • Myra Munson, Juneau • Nancy Barnes, Anchorage • Pat Branson, Kodiak • Paula DeLaiarro, Anchorage • Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 375, Fairbanks • Raina Thiele, Anchorage • Reid Magdanz, Kotzebue • Richard Peterson, Juneau • Robert Gottstein, Anchorage • Sarah McCabe, Anchorage • Scott Eickholt, Fairbanks • Sheri Buretta, Anchorage • Steve Hovenden, Fairbanks • Stosh Anderson, Kodiak • Tim Sharp, Fairbanks • Tom Panamaroff, Kodiak • Tom Schulz, Ketchikan • Tom Simpler, Kodiak • Tom Wescott, Eagle River • Vicki Otte, Anchorage • Willie Hensley, Anchorage • Debra Syvertson, Wasilla • Samuel Dunham, Anchorage • Craig Kasemodel, Anchorage
All the community leaders’ endorsements were not enough: Nels Anderson (Soldotna) • Richard Benneville (Nome) • Bruce Botelho (Juneau) • Pat Branson (Kodiak) • Harry Brower (Utqiaġvik) • Clint Cook (Craig) • Tony Christianson (Hydaburg) • Bert Cottle (Wasilla) • Vern Halter (Mat-Su) • Luke Hopkins (Fairbanks) • Matt Hunter (Sitka) • Mark Jensen (Petersburg) • Reggie Joule (Northwest Arctic) • Karl Kassel (Fairbanks) • Ruth Knight (Valdez) • Clay Koplin (Cordova) • David Landis (Ketchikan) • Georgianna Lincoln (Rampart) • Henry Mack (King Cove) • Will Mayo (Tanana) • Mike Navarre (Kenai) • Richard Peterson (Prince of Wales) • Pat Pletnikoff (Saint George) • Ralph Wolfe (Yakutat) • Bryan Zak (Homer) • Freddie Olin, Anchorage.
And all the money he raised was not enough: Walker raised nearly $580,000 in his campaign account, and Unite Alaska for Walker-Mallott, the super PAC, had raised over $1 million in early October, mostly from unions, but also from hundreds of Alaskans, mostly Democrats. In all, there was $1.6 million in the Walker-Mallott side of the battle, while Mark Begich barely broke $200,000.
At AFN on Friday, it was a self-pitying speech, and it was the most partisan speech possible. AFN leaders didn’t have time to reflect and make a sound decision about how much endorsement time they should give this sitting governor, but this was clearly history. He had just apologized and he was basking in the glow. They were caught flat-footed, and he took the liberty of giving full-throated praise to Mark Begich, and a stinging rebuke of his main opponent and the leading candidate, Mike Dunleavy.
This, even though it was Begich who muscled him out of the race, while Dunleavy was merely the teacher from rural Alaska with a conservative platform.
Walker choked his way through the written statement he had prepared Friday; the audience was clearly moved, emotionally in his corner. They sang for him, prayed for him (led by First Lady Donna Walker) and gave him gifts.
THE CAMPAIGNS SHIFT
Now, the battle is joined between Democrat Mark Begich and Republican Mike Dunleavy. There is no “Unity Ticket,” that the Democrats lauded in 2014. Unity tickets only happen once. There is only Republican and Democrat now.
Begich had the advantage because he knew what was coming. He had been negotiating with Walker for weeks. His machine is in place — half of his old senatorial staff is embedded in the Walker Administration. He knows what money is coming his way to fight for his message.
And what is the Begich message?
When he entered the race, he tacked far to the left. The unions lined up for Walker, so Begich had to go for the LGBTQ endorsement, which he did; and he had to endorse the Stand for Salmon ballot measure to get the environmentalists, which he did.
He came out strongly for Ballot Measure 1 only because Walker had stood against it. Now, he is changing his message: He meant that people should be allowed to vote. He will become the shape-shifter, now that Walker is gone.
Begich is the man who brought Sen. Maria Cantell to the state for fundraisers for her campaign. Cantwell has been one of the biggest opponents of opening up ANWR’s coastal plain for oil exploration, and who represents the interests of out-of-state commercial fishing entities.
Begich is the man who used the dirtiest campaign commercial in Alaska history to try to preserve his Senate seat after Dan Sullivan challenged him on the Republican side. Begich’s “Jerry Active” commercial went down as the worst campaign hit job of the 2014 races nationally, and he had to pull the ad because of the blow back.
Begich is the man who, it can be argued, was the deciding vote on Obamacare, and who still proudly claims that distinction.
A Begich governorship would mean many things for Alaska. He would be the first full-on Democrat since Tony Knowles, and he’d be far to the left of Knowles.
In a three-way campaign, Dunleavy was favored to win by what would be a landslide. But a two-way race has to be taken more seriously, when Begich is the opposition.
There is no more vicious knife than Mark Begich during a campaign knife fight.
With just 16 days until Nov. 6, this will be a battle royale between a non-establishment Republican who spent 19 years in the Arctic, rural Alaska, and a very-establishment Democrat from the suburbs of Anchorage, who has spent a lifetime in politics.
Who will be the next governor: A red-blooded Alaskan or a blue-blooded legacy Democrat?
Alaskans are in for a wild and wooly election on Nov. 6.