Former Alaska governor and current gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker spent more than an hour with the Citizen’s AKtion Network, or CAN, discussing his campaign and goals for Alaska last Thursday, Feb. 17, on Zoom with about 15 people tuning in to listen.
This is the second gubernatorial candidate forum CAN has hosted this election cycle. Democratic Party candidate Les Gara met with CAN on Nov. 18 2021. CAN describes itself as “a nonpartisan group supporting Alaskan and American constitutional values,” according to a press release. Its vision is of an “economic future that is sustainable, with our people aspiring to lives and public discussion that display integrity, while every adult sees engagement in the political process as a high ideal.”
Walker, 70, served as the 11th governor of Alaska from 2014 – 2018, which he said “… was the greatest honor of my life.” Walker suspended his re-election campaign in 2018 and backed Democratic Party candidate Mark Begich, with both losing to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
Walker announced his 2022 gubernatorial campaign in August 2021. Walker shared that he isn’t running to improve his resume and has no interest in running for any other political office, but he is concerned about the future of Alaska based on the current administration.
“I am running because I am worried about the state of where we are headed,” Walker said during the meeting. “I’ve never seen such a strong partisan battle go on as we have going on now. … We have a new level of partisanship that we’ve never seen.”
Walker is running with Heidi Drygas as his lieutenant governor, stating he chose her based on her “background and her passion for jobs and workforce development.” Drygas previously served as the commissioner of labor and workforce development under Walker’s administration.
During the CAN forum, a moderator asked Walker numerous questions concerning his policies and actions should he be elected governor again.
This year, for the first time, Alaskans will use a ranked choice voting system. In 2020, Alaskans voted to do away with party primaries; instead, in the open primary, voters will receive a single ballot listing all of the candidates. The top four vote-getters will move on to a general election where voters will rank the candidates in order of preference. Walker shared with the members of CAN that he is in favor of the new ranked-choice voting system.
“I like it for a couple of reasons. Being an independent, I don’t have a party at the state. I think it levels the playing field and it takes away one of the leverage pieces that the parties have used in the past.”
Walker shared his opinion that having closes primaries allows “too many opportunities for political games to be played,” and ranked choice voting will result in more moderate candidates being elected.
When asked what his position on Pebble Mine was during his time as governor and now, Walker said his stance hasn’t changed.
“I am very pro-development. … I am very into resource development. When it comes down to a renewable resource and a non-renewable resource, I’m going to side with renewable resources, and that is fish,” Walker said. “I came down on this side because I was not convinced Pebble Mine could be done without being a risk to a tremendous fishery in Bristol Bay.”
Walker said that even though it was a difficult decision, he has to remain mindful of the long run and what is best for Alaska.
In response to concerns for small businesses, Walker shared his three top priorities for supporting small businesses, including securing available employees, providing child care for people who need it, and lowering the cost of utilities and energy.
Walker also shared during the meeting that while he had not thought much about it, he would be open to entertaining discussions to do away with daylight saving time.
When asked his stance on vaccine mandates, Walker said the only thing that should be mandated is leadership.
“While I would not mandate vaccines, I would do everything I could to make sure every Alaskan understood the benefits of being vaccinated,” Walker said. “I would have stood with the medical community, with the hospital administrators and I would have supported them wholeheartedly. I would have encouraged and shown the benefits and lead by example and not sit back and let this go on and on.”
Another health care question by the CAN moderator dealt with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose for reproductive care, including contraceptives, which Walker reiterated is protected by the Alaska Constitution.
“Our constitution protects the right to privacy as a woman’s right to choose. My personal differences may be different; my oath of office is to uphold the constitution and I will,” Walker said. “If Roe v. Wade is reversed, the Alaska Constitution still provides that, and we will defend that.”
Walker also addressed how bringing in Medicaid expansion has helped more people gain access to reproductive health care, specifically birth control.
He also used the topic to discuss his opposition to a constitutional convention, which Alaskans will can vote for against holding in the upcoming election.
“I am not in favor of a constitutional convention,” Walker said. “The last thing we need right now in all of this turmoil is a constitutional convention.”
When asked how the status and credibility of the University of Alaska could be resurrected, Walker said it is imperative to recognize the importance of the higher education institution.
“We need to recognize its importance in our state and treat it as that,” Walker said. “… We need to make it a high priority. When I think of education in Alaska, I think pre-K through the university, and I think all of it is critically important. We need to get back to what we used to do; we used to hold it to high esteem, so we need to do that from the governor’s office on down.”
When asked about how to create a better communications and working relationship between the governor and the legislature, Walker said “you have to show up.”
“My approach is to show up, be there, engage, be willing to compromise and find some common ground to do what is best for Alaska,” Walker said.
For more information about the Walker-Drygas campaign, visit walkerdrygas.com.
Reach reporter Sarah Knapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.