Gov. Bill Walker abandoned his bid for re-election on Friday.
In an announcement at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage, the incumbent independent said he is suspending his election campaign and is throwing his support behind Democratic candidate Mark Begich. Walker is not resigning; he will complete his term in office.
“As of today I am suspending my campaign,” he said after taking the stage.
The proclamation drew gasps and cries from the audience.
It comes days after the resignation of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott under uncertain circumstances. Mallott withdrew from the election on Tuesday, the same day he resigned, leaving the Walker-Mallott campaign in limbo.
“In the time remaining, it has become clear we cannot win a three-way race,” Walker said.
The deadline for withdrawing from the general election ballot has already passed; the names of Walker and Mallott will still appear before voters. Early voting begins Monday, but more than 20,000 absentee ballots have already been mailed to voters, and more than 1,000 have already been voted, according to figures from the Division of Elections.
Walker’s withdrawal leaves three candidates in the governor’s race: Democratic candidate Begich, Republican Mike Dunleavy and Libertarian Billy Toien.
Begich is Walker’s preferred candidate, he said in his address.
“Alaskans deserve a competitive race. Alaskans deserve a choice other than Mike Dunleavy,” Walker said, claiming that if Dunleavy is elected, he will eliminate Alaska’s expanded Medicaid program, de-fund the proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline, and “undo the bipartisan approved sustainable fiscal plan.”
AFN delegates interrupted the regularly scheduled agenda after Walker’s address in order to deliver a series of speeches praising and thanking Walker for his actions as governor. In particular, the delegates thanked him for his apology for colonialist actions by the state and territorial government.
One speaker proposed a resolution accepting Walker’s apology, and it was unanimously approved with a standing ovation from the audience at Anchorage’s Dena’ina Center.
Then, a series of representatives from tribes and Native corporations across Alaska came to the stage and offered their remarks. Some offered gifts literally off their backs and necks to the governor.
Will Mayo, the emcee for much of this year’s AFN ceremonies, appeared stunned by the proceedings.
“That kind of sacrifice in my mind only comes from a heart of love. Where else does that come from?” he said. “I’ll never forget this. This is a historical moment, folks. This is a historic moment in the state of Alaska.”
Walker’s withdrawal speech
Walker’s campaign emailed the full text of his speech to supporters and the media after its delivery. It is reprinted below:
I ran for re-election because I still believe that, more than anything else, Alaska deserves integrity, honesty, and courage.
Alaska First is, and cannot only be, a campaign slogan. When I said I ran for governor to do the job, not make the decisions to keep the job, I meant exactly what I said. Every decision I have made as your governor, I have made on the basis of what I believe is best for Alaska.
With that said, effective today, I am suspending my campaign for re-election as Governor. With more time, I am confident that Val and I could deliver a message and a campaign that could earn a victory in this election.
But there are only 18 days remaining before election day. Absentee ballots have already been mailed, and Alaskans are already voting. In the time remaining, I believe we cannot win a three-way race.
This week I have talked to many Alaskans to determine whether I or Mark Begich had a better chance of running a competitive race against Mike Dunleavy. The determination was made that, at this point, Begich has the better odds.
Alaskans deserve a competitive race. Alaskans deserve a choice other than Mike Dunleavy, whose record and campaign rhetoric indicate he will:
• eliminate Medicaid Expansion that has provided health care access to 44,000 Alaskans, created jobs and brought $1 billion federal dollars into the Alaskan economy while decreasing State healthcare expenditures by $16 million, kept hospitals from closing, and saved lives;
• defund the Alaska LNG Gasline project that has made historic progress, will create 12,000 high paying construction jobs, 88,000 direct and indirect jobs and deliver low cost energy to our homes and businesses;
• undo the bipartisan approved sustainable fiscal plan that has resulted in fiscal stability, significantly reduced the deficit, improved our credit rating and preserved the PFD program into perpetuity;
• cause our most vulnerable to suffer the brunt of the additional $1 billion in budget cuts he vows to make to education, rural Alaska and those receiving health care.
Moreover, my administration has worked tirelessly to improve the relationship between Tribes and State and restore respect for Alaska’s First Peoples in state government. Yesterday, I apologized on behalf of the State of Alaska for the wrongs committed against the Alaska Native people throughout our history, because I believed that was best for Alaska. My expectation is that this work critical to the healing of historical trauma and unifying all Alaskans will be undone in a Dunleavy administration.
On balance, it is my belief that despite my many differences with Mark Begich, his stance on the important issues I have listed above more closely align with my priorities for Alaska.
This is not the first difficult decision I have made this week, but it is one I know I must make. There simply are no words to express my deepest gratitude to the incomparable, dedicated team of outstanding Alaskans who have served in my administration and to the thousands of supporters, donors, volunteers and campaign staff who have been passionately committed to my re-election. And above all, I want to say thank you to my family and to Donna, my first lady for life.
As I said earlier this week, ultimately, it’s not how long my team and I serve, it’s how well we served the people and the state we love while the opportunity was ours. We have served with integrity, courage, devotion, and compassion, never asking ourselves whether a decision is politically correct but always asking if it is right for Alaska. I am proud of the work we have done in the most challenging fiscal crisis in state history and it is the honor of my life to have served as the governor of this great state.
Thank you, God bless you all, and may God continue to bless Alaska.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.