My take on why Bill Walker beat Sean Parnell

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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29 thoughts on “My take on why Bill Walker beat Sean Parnell

  1. DB

    Set the record straight. There are not 40,000 uninsured Alaskans. There are somewhere between 12,000-14,000. Of course, this does not include the Alaskan Natives who are insured even though they would like to use Medicaid $$ to get free transportation to Anchorage. Just ask the ANTHC. Medicaid expansion will provide health insurance to able bodied single people–something Medicaid was not ever designed for. Once the feds pull out the $$, Alaska will be stuck with an “unfunded” mandate. Besides, these Medicaid expanded folks will get ahead of Medicare and Tricare patients because Medicaid reimburses providers at a much higher rate. What will happen to military dependents and seniors when that happens? Take a number and get in line behind…

  2. Forecast

    What is disconcerting is that Ms. Coyne believes the Parnell PR.

    “Oil tax reform” What is your definition of reform, Ms. Coyne? SB-21 is giving away the resource. The deductions make “new” oil tax free.

    “Closer than ever on a gas line”. On what planet? 2025 is not closer than 2019, which is what the markets have asked for, but was rejected by Parnell.

    North Slope activity is not better than what we saw under ACES. Did you miss the BP layoffs?

    Does Ashley Reed write this propaganda?

  3. Rick Shaw

    Yes It’s TRUE. And it’s Alice Rogoff’s fault that Parnell ignored the public information requests. She is also behind his decision to deny Medicaid to 40,000 low income Alaskans. She did ALL this, just to make him look bad.

  4. Brad Keithley

    Well, and then there was this also from another summary of the race elsewhere: “State deficit woes that are expected to exceed $2 billion this year, with plunging oil prices adding to the misery, also likely didn’t help.”

  5. Anonymous

    Turbo, are you mad? If McGuire was his running mate, the governor would have lost by a landslide. No one takes her seriously. she has serious character flaws. she’s a moderate, she’s terribly polarizing. She would have been a better mate for Walker. Not that Sullivan is a pillar of morality, but he is a conservative and less of a drama queen.

  6. Anonymous

    Of course it is true. What a brood of vipers. It will all come back on them. You will reap what you have sown, Alice, ADN, Walker, Beltrami.

  7. Turbo

    One thing not mentioned is the fact that having the polarizing Mayor Sullivan as the Lt. Gov candidate pushed Parnell farther to the right, and the appearance to be more negative labor than what was actual. With the race being as close as it was, that might have been the difference.
    I imagine if McGuire or Treadwell was Parnell’s running mate, the results might have been different.

  8. joe blow

    You missed the point – Rogoff conspired with Walker and Beltrami to oust Parnell by blowing the NG deal all out of proportion. You will notice that the daily drip-drip of scandalous stories stopped on Election Day. You will also notice that all of these horrific crimes were reported to APD, FPD, AST … and no charges were ever filed.

  9. Lensky

    Reading the comments here everything takes on perfect clarity. Sean Parnell was the victim of a billionaire publisher who conspired with a handful of National Guard chaplains who filed complaints they knew would be ignored because key appointees of Gov. Parnell had all agreed to act as though they were incompetent (which of course they really aren’t). This went on for more than five years until these snakes struck poor Sean at election time. What a patient bunch of conspirators they are! Poor Sean. He’s a babe in the woods.

  10. Anonymous


    Loyal, honest and ethical men don’t cheat on their wives, abandon their conservative principles, lie to the voters, dump their running mate, throw the voters, the election process and his party under the bus. Walker is an opportunist and a soothsayer. He is all about himself, not Alaskans or Alaska.

  11. Anonymous

    I wholeheartedly agree with DB. Voting is a privilege, as well as a right and too many people don’t take it seriously or treat it with the care and thought it deserves. Walker had no plans and nothing concrete to run on, only his unabashed hatred for Gov. Parnell. And the media was behind Walker for that reason. Who runs on nothing but general and vague platforms and wins? Oh wait, Obama did. It’s the simple-minded, unsophisticated people with no critical thinking skills who pushed Walker over the edge. This is by no means a mandate from the people for him. Alaskans will soon have buyer’s remorse as Walker shows his true colors. Hopefully, his dirty deal with the dems done in secret will be exposed in greater detail. Walker will be a one-term governor.

    I hope Gov. Parnell runs again in 4 and rescues Alaska from Walker. Sadly, he will have Walker’s mess to clean up and to start all over on a gas line deal because Walker will shred it, just like he did the sanctity of the election.

    Where was the public outrage over what Walker and Mallot did to the voters and the election process? If Gov. Parnell had done that, we would never have heard the end of that. And now that they media did its damage to Gov. Parnell, we will never hear about the National Guard story again. They are the attack dogs of conservatives and the lapdogs of democrats instead of the watchdogs of government. Pathetic.

  12. Anonymous

    What was Shannyn Moore convicted of? She is a mean and malicious big mouth but I didn’t know she was a felon.

  13. Lamar

    C’mon Milton. Don’t through a tiff because Parnell lost. He didn’t do anything as governor, other than put Alaska and Alaskans in horrible shape. He failed the men and women of the national guard and he needs to be held accountable. Bill Walker is going to get Alaska back on track with transparency and a never ending passion for attaining a prosperous and robust future for Alaska. Very excited for the next chapter of our great state.

  14. Anonymous

    The National Guard scandal was the biggest story there was for years, dominated the press and the air waves. Then, the day after the election, it just vanished. Imagine that. Dan Fagan says the whole thing was orchestrated by AD’s billionaire owner Alice Rogoff but that can’t possibly be true. Can it?

  15. joe barnard

    A very laudatory piece on Parnell. I know you are smitten with Sandy Parnell too, but jeez, if he is such an honest person why did he work so hard to hide what his administration was doing for 5 years? As for not broadcasting his successes, he certainly had his commissioners and other lackeys writing op eds telling their side of the story in the runup to the election. Sorry, your analysis doesn’t add up.

  16. Milton Friedman

    So ADN received all those emails weeks ago. Where’s the story?

    When Walker is an absolute and total failure, and he will be, and the Governors office is cleared of any wrongdoing, and they will be, I hope that some conservatives who felt compelled to vote for the union ticket will think things through next time around.

  17. James

    The most inappropriate and disgusting comment cam from the Dispatch’s Shannyn Moore who gleefully posted on FB that Parnell and Sullivan can “suck it” in response to the Walker victory. How immatirely crude. Is this really the best level of progressive “thought?” Why anyone cares about what this small-minded convicted felon thinks is beyond me. Yet, this seems to be THE VOICE behind the Walker-Mallott team. If Walker was a class act, which is highly questionable, he needs to seperate himself from the likes of Ms. Moore. My biggest concern about Walker is who he is surrounding himself with. It just doesn’t make sense.

  18. Trent

    I’ve known Bill Walker for more than 20 years and he is a very honest, loyal and ethical man both in his work and private lives. He doesn’t compromise his morals or ethics when it’s convenient, but instead makes tough decisions or works harder. He certainly has his work cut out for him with the mess Parnell left for him, but he is one of the hardest working people I know and is so passionate about the state of Alaska, that I am confident we will be in a better place four years from now. I’m excited for the future of Alaska.

  19. J.R.Myers, ACP Chairman

    The outcome of the Governor’s race couldn’t possibly have been affected by the ACP & ALP campaigns which together earned 5-6% of the vote, far beyond the 1-2% margin of victory. The major difference in this campaign from those in the past is that the ACP fielded a gubernatorial ticket for the first time. Take nothing for granted politically in Alaska, as the ACP will continue to be a player. We are growing and have the support of many thousands of our fellow Alaskans!

    P.S. God Bless Amanda- J.R.

  20. DB

    Regardless of the best analyses of the policies of the Parnell Administration, the media were intent on taking him down. The low and no information voters are extremely susceptible to sound bites, and “shaping of the battlefield” by the mass media. These voters carry the day when a race is very close. That is indeed unfortunate, for Alaska and the Country. We have become Personality voters, not policy voters. The media know and they use this tactic to their goals.

  21. Northern Observer

    I have mixed feelings about the gubernatorial election. While Parnell left a lot to be desired, he was a man of character and was honest in both his personal and public life. Bill Walker cannot make that same claim on any level.
    The only thing I know that I won’t miss about the Parnell administration is the string of mindless press releases that weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. My good luck and best wishes to the Parnell’s.

  22. South Anchorage Heaven

    Excellent story and perspective on the reasons behind Sean Parnell’s unfortunate loss to Bill Walker.

    Parnell is indeed a good and honest man. He was deliberative, methodical and fair. He wanted to do what was just and fair. He brought a good moral compass to the job and never turned away from it for political convenience or expediency. At the core, Sean Parnell is the kind of man that we should hold up as a standard of what we should want in our politicians.

    He failed because of his lack of political instincts, his inability to identify and react to problems in the same news cycle and misplaced loyalties.

    In his governor’s office, there was zero political acumen or experience. Or if there was, they were afraid of the Cindy Sims types who thought they were smart politically and weren’t.

    An excellent point was made that his office failed to “trumpet” their successes. Simply stated, his “official” press office was totally inept. His so-called press person/spokesperson came to the position with Sarah Palin without the experience, motivation or aptitude for what the position needed. His press office may well have been the worst press operation of any elected official in America.

    His misplaced loyalties and unwillingness to improve the quality of personnel in his administration is legendary. Trying to be successful with people like Cindy Sims, Jerry Gallagher, Sharon Leighow, Bill Streur and Randy Ruaro in key positions made a life of success almost impossible.

    I think Alaskans will be sorry they turned their backs on Sean Parnell. He is a good man. Unfortunately, politics today demand so much more.

  23. Lynn Willis

    To me, Bill Walker didn’t win as much as Sean Parnell lost. I would think that somewhere we might have been reminded about the fiscal crisis Governor Parnell created by approving the largest budgets in state history without the income to support them. Governor Parnell allowed his budgets to be supported by spending our cash reserves and by doing this, literally took us into a casino where he has bet the future of this state on a return to high oil prices. Well, with Alaskan Oil now below $80.00 we are losing at the craps table. Yesterday in this forum Brad Keithley pointed out the fall in the price of oil is equivalent to a 40% decline in production had prices not dropped. If SB21 was the cure for all problems with the stagnant situation on the North Slope, imagine how much incentive the producers would now have with the lower tax rates ACES would have allowed at current oil prices?
    As to Cook Inlet, again we had a resurgence of activity yet without generating the revenues the state needs. Consumer gas prices have risen substantially (over 50%) in recent years. Now some rigs are leaving and our supply contracts expire in 2018. Fairbanks remains in the lurch and is not expected to create a demand for Cook Inlet gas despite the encouraging news about new discoveries in the basin
    The State continues to pay for ever-more-expensive government services in all the regions of Alaska who refuse to create local taxing authorities. Imagine the impact to the state budget if Ketchikan prevails in arguing that the state must pay for all education as prescribed in the State Constitution? Certainly the state must now cut revenue sharing funds to those communities who have established local taxing authorities.
    We might have been reminded about the latent support for, and subsequent failure, of AGIA which cost us upwards of 340 million dollars and now, absent “alignment” with Governor Parnell’s defeat the future of the AKLNG project is guarded while we face ever increasing costs (in the millions) to continue to explore just the viability of this project. Also, we continue to pay for a parallel pipe line project in the AGDC/ASAP pipe line effort. And now, facing our fiscal situation, how can we afford to distribute gas, or the energy from that gas, to those regions of Alaska who do not have the economies to generate the wealth to pay for that energy absent significant state subsidy?
    I could argue that an ethical person who is also an attorney does not create a state job for the Legislator sitting as the chair person of House Rules then refuse to defend his actions, or admit error, when knowledge of his very apparent violation of the State Constitution in this matter became public. I could argue that an informed and effective leader capable of communicating with his appointees and his constituents would not have been ignorant of the terrible ground water contamination that continued for his entire term from the North Pole Refinery nor would an informed leader have to admit he was “surprised” when notified the Refinery was closing. That same explanation could account for his failure in the National Guard scandal.
    Lastly, a Governor who spent state funds as Sean Parnell did can not honestly tell me that he refused Medicade expansion only because he feared the cost and was not following a national political party agenda regardless of the impact on Alaskans.
    Bill Walker certainly has a “full plate” before him because of the legacy of the last five years.

  24. Jon K

    I would add that Parnell was hobbled by awful press coverage. People can debate why this happened, but the simple fact is the press ran with a narrative that Parnell was a mindless stooge of big oil for most of his term.

    Anyway, I hope that Walker will continue to focus on sexual assault and domestic violence. There is no reason why this has to be a partisan issue. Shannyn Moore’s campaign to misinform Alaskans by delegitimizing the Choose Respect initiative as a PR stunt was disgusting. Worse, some Democrats ran with this meme, which meant instead of talking about what more we can do to address SA and Dv, the focus was on how Choose Respect was a political ploy. In any event, hopefully Walker will focus on this epidemic and improve the initiative that Parnell started.

  25. Garand Fellow

    Governor Parnell either had no campaign or else had a terrible campaign. Both analyses work. I cannot explain why the Exempt and P-EX people he appointed didn’t work on the campaign but that is what happened. I hope he runs for Congress.

  26. Straitlaced Radical

    I think some of your analysis is accurate, but there is another interpretation for some of these facts: sometimes Parnell just does what he thinks is the right thing, minus political calculation. You can say that about Medicaid and about the records releases, at least. There is more to the stories on those- improper releases, or those that aren’t redacted as fully as they should be, can seriously hinder future prosecution of those that should be prosecuted. The public will likely never know the full story on that because most of the ones spinning the narrative have been agenda driven and selective.

    A political and opportunistic power seeker without a set of principles will beat a person of integrity who isn’t primarily driven by politics almost every time. It’s a sad reality, but true. We lament the lack of honest and decent folks who hold office, but it’s a wonder anyone who isn’t purely driven by ambition would want to subject themselves to the treatment that goes with the territory.

    I predict a fair amount of voters’ remorse with Walker in less than a year.

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