On Friday night, the AP called the governor’s race for Bill Walker. Sitting Gov. Sean Parnell has yet to concede, though he’s down about 4,600 votes, which he won’t be able to make up with the ballots remaining.
Parnell was the lieutenant governor under Sarah Palin. She left her seat to him when she resigned in 2009, and he immediately brought calm to an office that under Palin, was a mess. He won in his own right in 2010, handily beating both Bill Walker and Ralph Samuels in the primary, and Democrat Ethan Berkowitz in the general.
Those who knew him and worked closely with him knew him to be an honest, ethical governor and a good man. And although he didn’t always find a way to adequately trumpet them, Parnell had some major successes. He was able to pass oil tax reform, which, as the price of oil has continued to fall, looks increasingly wise. Say what you want about the compromises he had to make for it, we’re closer to getting a natural gas pipeline built than we’ve ever been. The North Slope is full of new activity and there’s a natural gas renaissance happening in the Cook Inlet. Fisheries groups seem fairly well satisfied. Things have been relatively quiet on the hunting front, which is a near-miracle. But probably his greatest achievement is that for the first time since I’ve lived in the state, we are talking openly about the scourge of sexual abuse in Alaska
Then there were the many mistakes Parnell made, one of which was failing to get the right political minds around him to help him reach out to build loyalty among constituencies and to foresee future problems. He put people who were too close to industry on boards that oversaw industry. And when the opportunity presented itself, he skipped over putting a representative from labor on the Alaska Gasline Development Corp board. Had he done so, he likely could have staved off a major union endorsement of Walker, who was highly dependent on labor for his election. His refusal to expand Medicaid made him appear to be a right-wing zealot to some. But the fact that his administration ignored public information requests made months before the election regarding the National Guard scandal will probably go down as one of the biggest public policy and political mistakes made by any governor in Alaska. Thumbing their noses at the law is bad enough, but to do so with an election on the horizon was political malpractice. It allowed the story to slowly drip, and in the process, made Parnell look weak and made Bill Walker, by comparison, look anything but.
Bill Walker and Byron Mallott will now take the helm. Prior to the formation of the Unity Ticket (read about that here), Walker ran largely on being the governor who oversaw the building of the natural gas pipeline. He was going to take on the oil industry in Alaska, ala his mentor Wally Hickel, and put Alaska “in the driver’s seat.” However, once he and Mallott hooked up, his message was less about the gasline, and more about the spirit of inclusion and about listening to people. In that way, he was the anti-Parnell. Not the gasline, nor his pugilistic stance towards the oil industry, was what got him elected, and only barely so. (And of course, there’s Vince Beltrami. Congrats Vince!)
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