The Alaska Democrats took a historic vote on Monday night to support a “unified” ticket which would combine the candidacies of Independent Republican gubernatorial candidates Bill Walker and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott. Walker will run as the governor. Mallott will run as the lieutenant governor. The ballot will list them as “unaffiliated.” Walker, who is a registered Republican, will have to change his party status to undeclared. Mallott can continue to be a registered Democrat if he chooses.
If both Walker and Mallott agree—which is all but certain—it will be the first time since Alaska began to vote that there won’t be a Democrat running for governor, which is troubling for some.
But many who had been pushing the merger have been saying that there was no way that Gov. Sean Parnell could be beat in a three-way race, and that beating Parnell was more important than party allegiance.
Too, on the big issue of the current oil tax repeal debate, Walker and Mallott are in sync.
Party rules dictate that the change of the ticket be voted on by the Democratic State Central Committee, which has about 140 members. On Monday night, 92 votes were counted, some of them by proxy. The count was 89-2 in support of the new ticket.
One of the “no” votes came from Juneau Democrat Kim Metcalfe. When reached after the vote, she said that she was a “yellow dog Democrat” and that she couldn’t vote for a Republican.
More than 40,000 people voted in the August primary for Mallott and for Democratic lieutenant governor Hollis French. Many of them will likely feel like Metcalfe.
However, the word most used at the party headquarters in Anchorage on Monday–where committee members had been locked up in a room for hours—was “excited” and “historic.”
The media was allowed in the conference room to listen to the final votes. However, we weren’t allowed to listen to the discussion preceding the vote. The crowd of about 15 in the conference cheered when the roll was called.
The deal had been weeks in the making, and many, including me, predicted that it wouldn’t transpire. First, it was hard to see how the Democrats would agree not to run someone from their party on the ticket. Secondly, many had a hard time seeing Mallott–a Tlingit leader with a deep bench of experience—accepting the number two ticket on the ballot.
And then there was lieutenant governor nominee Hollis French, who is better known and arguably a better campaigner than Mallott.
But however it happened, which will be in a chapter on Alaska history someday, the whole thing came together.
French sent the following statement to the Central Committee:
I have always believed that public service is fundamentally nothing more than an opportunity to make the world a better place. In this election cycle, I had believed that the best way forward for Alaska was with a Mallott-French ticket. In light of recent events, I must resign my position as Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor. I have asked for nothing in exchange for my resignation. I believe the overriding imperative is to replace Sean Parnell.
Many of the tickets supporters are still in campaign-mode from the recent ballot initiative to repeal the oil tax break championed by Parnell. This ticket will keep those folks energized. Organized labor will likely come on board in a big way to support the ticket. Parnell hasn’t particularly antagonized labor, but he hasn’t worked to cultivate its support in any way either. However, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who is Parnell’s running mate, is a different story. He has the rockiest relationship with labor as any politician in recently memory.
All of the excitement and enthusiasm that will follow the ticket will also likely spill over into the Senate race to the benefit of Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who is said to have had a voice in the decision to merge the two candidates. One of Begich’s key messages is that party affiliation is less important than standing up for Alaska.
The deadline to change the ticket is tomorrow by close of business. Walker and Mallott are expected to do so and are expected to hold a press conference.
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