In his second bid to become Alaska’s governor, Bill Walker is running neither as a Republican nor a Democrat. Following advice he said he received from the late Gov. Wally Hickel — advice he ignored at the time — Walker is running as an independent.
“I did this once before and Gov. Hickel encouraged me to run as an independent,” said Walker of his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. “I came in second in the polls, one point behind Parnell, so I said if I ever did it again, I’d run as an independent.”
On Friday, Walker stopped by Homer Senior Citizens’ dining room to visit with assisted-living residents and their guests and followed that with a meet-and-greet with the public.
Running as an independent might mean having to work a bit harder for campaign volunteers and financial support, but it also offers some advantages, Walker said.
“As an independent I go right to the general election and ignore the primary and I can select a lieutenant governor that’s phenomenal,” he said, referring to Craig Fleener. “As an independent, I don’t have to worry about a platform.“
What he does worry about — high-energy costs, health care, a state budget running into the red — are the reasons he’s a candidate. He also believes too much time and too many dollars are spent on studies and not enough time working together to solve problems.
“Statehood wasn’t a partisan issue. Rebuilding after the earthquake wasn’t a partisan issue. We fix things ourselves as Alaskans, not on opposite sides of the street waving signs at each other,” Walker said.
Born in Fairbanks, Walker was a youngster living in Delta Junction when Alaska became a state in 1959.
“My family went to the A&W Root Beer stand and it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, so I knew it was something important,” he said.
He has worked on the trans-Alaska pipeline, served as the mayor of Valdez, holds a law degree from the University of Puget Sound Law School and has been married to his wife, Donna, for 37 years.
“We have four children and two grandchildren and are at a point in life where we could move on,” Walker said. “But knowing where we are, where we used to be, where we’re headed, I can’t look at my family and say, ‘good luck.’”
Asked how he will vote on Ballot Measure 1, the repeal of the state’s oil and gas tax structure as defined by Senate Bill 21, Walker said he would vote for the repeal.
“The incentives to bring in additional companies went out with (Senate Bill) 21,” said Walker, who favors an increased number of oil and gas companies doing business in the state. “We hurt ourselves with 21. It was bad for Alaska. I think we can do better.”
If elected governor, however, Walker said he would follow the wishes of the voters with regard to the ballot measure.
While he was clear to point out he has “a lot of respect for the oil companies we have here,” Walker said there “needs to be a separation of oil and state. There are two sides to the table for a reason. We need someone on our side and we don’t have that right now.”
Among those attending the Friday meet-and-greet was Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove. Tillion served nine terms in the Legislature, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. He was known as Hickel’s “fish czar” and is a charter member and past chairman of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
“Would you consider a Department of Energy to get us off carbon,” Tillion asked Walker.
“I certainly would,” said Walker. “Energy is the biggest issue in the state.”
Asked by Homer resident Bryan Zak if a Department of Energy was developed, would Walker consider naming Tillion his “energy czar,” Walker gave a one-word answer.
“Certainly,” he said.
The response drew a laugh from Tillion, who reminded Walker that he turns 89 this year.
“Then there’s not a moment to lose,” said Zak, causing everyone to laugh.
Coming back to the advantages of running as an independent, Walker said he “didn’t want to be limited by one party.” In addition to Tillion, a Republican, Walker noted a recent visit with former First Lady Bella Hammond at her home on Lake Clark, during which Hammond offered Walker her support.
“We have some great Alaskans in our camp,” said Walker.
This was Walker’s second visit to the Homer area. On the Fourth of July, he will be in Independence Day parades in Wasilla in the morning and return to the peninsula in the afternoon for a parade in Seward.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.