For many across the state, including this writer, the excitement and bipartisan spirit that has accompanied the merger of an unaffiliated ticket comprised of Bill Walker, a Republican and Byron Mallott, a Democrat, is infectious. It’s a new day in Alaska, they said at the press conference on Tuesday officially announcing the merger. We’re doing it for the best of the state, they said.
It all felt familiar. Déjà vu for the politico in you. Scott Heyworth, a former Palin disciple, said to me, “This feels like when Sarah Palin won, but better!”
Indeed it did feel like 2005, when Palin won her party’s nomination for governor. Her message then was largely centered around creating a bi-partisan team that was going to do what was right for Alaska, party politics be damned.
Walker vowed that he was going to “field the best and brightest Alaskans across the state.” He said, “Partisan politics will not have a place in our administration.”
Palin, also said that her administration would be filled with the best Alaskans from both sides of the aisle. And it was, until it wasn’t.
On Tuesday, the crowd—about 150 or so—cheered loudly for the new team. Many of them, for a moment at least, were so caught up in the spirit, that they forgot that for years, they had been proud, card-carrying members of their respective parties.
But if any Republican is going to make Democrats forget that they gave up the top of their ticket for the first time in history, it would be Walker. He’s anti-oil, pro-union, and has enough Wally Hickel-meets Jay Hammond in him to win the hearts of Democrats who have lionized the two. History, for the Dems, have been soft on the pair. They seem to have forgotten that Hickel was more radically pro-life and pro-development than any other governor before him, and that Hammond, in a nasty fight, beat one of Alaska’s beloved Democrats, Gov. Bill Egan, out of his seat.
When you’re talking to Walker, it’s easy to forget the things about him that might make Dems squirm. Namely, that he’s pro-life, for one, against gay marriage and that he fought vigorously for a parental notification law. He promises to keep all of that away from government, and he says it with enough conviction that enough people believe him.
And if there’s doubt that the ticket will have a Democratic voice, there’s always the steadfast, accomplished, Byron Mallott to convince those who are still unconvinced. Walker assured the crowd on Tuesday that Mallott wouldn’t be relegated to a position down the hall, and that Mallott would have an active role in the administration.
However, when he spoke to a group of tea party libertarian types on that same night, he assured them that he was the governor and that he had the ultimate say.
He said that because it’s the truth.
Let me be clear here: I do not wish to be the one to do a narrative version of an ice-bucket challenge on the party. Because having both of those two in charge could be a very good thing for the state. Perhaps partisanship is something that is tearing the state apart. Perhaps we would all be better off if we got rid of all parties forever. And perhaps it’s ultimately better to have party leaders nullify more than 80,000 collective votes, including my own, for Byron Mallott for governor and Hollis French for lieutenant governor, that were cast in the primary. As one party official said, “It can’t get any worse.”
But let’s also be clear that a public process—the ones that Democrats often say is sacrosanct–wasn’t just fiddled with. It was shredded. Remember how Democrats howled when Rep. Lindsey Holmes switched from Democrat to Republican? Imagine the reaction had she been replaced by a completely different person. Meet your new legislator, Sue Smith!
At the press conference. I asked how the public could be assured that “process” would be followed under a Bill Walker-Byron Mallott ticket. They said, “trust us.”
I’ll trust them. I’m playing, for a while at least, if nothing else but because Gov. Sean Parnell has been such a miserable communicator, so nonresponsive to those outside of his close circle of likeminded big-spending conservatives. Even his response to the announcement—to try to tie the pair to Obama–was flat-footed and off-key, and only proved Walker and Mallott’s point.
So it feels like a new day in Alaska, and new days are always invigorating. If nothing else, they allow for good copy.
But here’s something that’s niggling at me: When Sarah Palin was elected in 2006, Gov. Frank Murkowski was on the verge of a gasline deal. I’ve done as much research into that as I can handle doing, and still I don’t know if it was a very bad, or a mediocre deal. But there was a framework that was years in the making. Palin brought a new team in, a new day, and ripped it up.
What did we get? We spent hundreds of millions on something called the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. The new plan was something that looked and sounded good in principle, but in reality it didn’t work. I know many of the architects of AGIA–some of whom were in the room on Tuesday–and I know they had the very best intentions for the state, but it was a failure that might have set the state back a decade, or more.
Walker hasn’t spoken about the gasline as much as he did when he ran for governor in 2010. But he did say at the press conference that he would be the governor that would finally see dirt moving and a pipeline built. And he told me later that he wouldn’t start over and that he would work with what’s been negotiated, as long as Alaska was in charge of the process.
The way that the current contract is written, all four players — Exxon, the State of Alaska, ConocoPhillips and BP — need to agree on key aspects before the project moves forward.
So under Walker, it appears that the project, that’s currently in pre-feed, would have to be re-negotiated. Again, this might be for the best, but it would take years, and it would require a Legislature to be on board.
And it’s a Legislature composed of people, not all of whom have signed on to this new spirit of bipartisanship. Many of them didn’t sign on to it when Palin was elected either.
Look how that turned out.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org