Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has abruptly resigned his office and from the 2018 general election for “inappropriate comments,” Gov. Bill Walker announced Tuesday.
Mallott was replaced by Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, the commissioner of health and social services and the third person in Alaska’s chain of succession. Davidson took the oath of office in a quiet ceremony at Walker’s Anchorage offices shortly before news of the resignation was announced to the public. Davidson also replaces Mallott in the 2018 general election, now less than three weeks away.
Though Mallott’s resignation letter has been released to the public and Walker has released an official statement, Alaskans still do not know what comments sparked Mallott’s resignation. The secret appears to be closely held among members of Walker’s administration, and Walker press secretary Austin Baird said the governor himself only learned about it the night before.
In a Tuesday afternoon press conference and in a written statement, Walker said he accepted Mallott’s resignation “with profound disappointment and sadness.”
The statement was accompanied by a copy of Mallott’s resignation and pictures of Davidson’s swearing-in ceremony.
Davidson appeared at Walker’s press conference. Mallott, who was in Anchorage for the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference, did not. Mallott also did not answer a call to his personal phone by the Empire.
In his letter of resignation, which was provided to the Empire by the governor’s office, Mallott wrote: “It is a resignation compelled by inappropriate comments I made that placed a person whom I respect and revere in a position of vulnerability.”
Neither Davidson nor Walker answered questions from members of the media, and Walker’s spokespeople did not explain what comments prompted the lieutenant governor’s resignation.
“We’ll get answers out as fast as we can,” Baird said.
“It is with profound disappointment and sadness that I accepted the resignation of Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott,” Walker said in the prepared statement released before the press conference and read aloud by the governor at the press conference. “Byron recently made inappropriate comments that do not reflect the sterling level of behavior required in his role as Lieutenant Governor. I learned of the incident last night. Byron has taken full responsibility for his actions and has resigned. As leaders, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of conduct. Valerie Davidson was confirmed as Lieutenant Governor-designee earlier this April. She was sworn in today as Lieutenant Governor. Doctor Jay Butler has been appointed Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services. Alaskans can be confident that Valerie Davidson will assume the duties of Lieutenant Governor with grace and dignity.”
John-Henry Heckendorn, manager of the Walker-Mallott re-election campaign, said by phone to the Empire that Mallott’s resignation extends to the election campaign as well.
“He’s resigning now, and he’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure that if Walker-Mallott get the most votes that he’s replaced with Val immediately,” Heckendorn said.
Asked whether Tuesday’s events could result in a hybrid election ticket between Walker and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Begich, Heckendorn said, “We have been in conversations with Begich about the best way to move forward for Alaska, and those conversations will continue. We’ve been in conversations before we had any idea of what had happened with Byron. We’ve been in conversations with Begich for a few days about how to move forward in a way that’s best for Alaska.”
Heckendorn confirmed that those talks were held without any advance knowledge of Mallott’s resignation.
Mallott’s resignation comes three weeks before a general election in which Walker and Mallott were to face Republican, Democratic and Libertarian challengers.
Absentee ballots have already been mailed to voters, and it is too late for Mallott’s name to be stricken from the general election, said Josie Bahnke, director of the Division of Elections, when reached by the Empire at her office.
“Accordingly, if Governor Walker is re-elected,” said an official statement from the division, “Byron Mallott will technically be elected along with him. However, given Mr. Mallott’s resignation, Governor Walker would be able to appoint a lieutenant governor successor consistent with state statute.”
On Tuesday afternoon in Mallott’s Capitol offices in Juneau, his portrait still stood next to Walker’s, while some staffers had red eyes and called it a “sad day.” There were no packing boxes in evidence, and few people were present.
— James Brooks (@AK_OK) October 16, 2018
It is as yet unclear what Mallott’s abrupt resignation will mean for the results of the general election. Polls have consistently indicated a large lead for Republican challenger Mike Dunleavy and his lieutenant governor candidate, Kevin Meyer. An updated tracking poll released Tuesday by Ivan Moore of Alaska Survey Research found Dunleavy with the support of 43.4 percent of likely voters. Walker was said to have the support of 26.6 percent of voters, and Democratic candidate Mark Begich was said to have the support of about 26.4 percent. Libertarian Billy Toien was not polled.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.