One hour after polls closed on Election Day, August 19, Byron Mallott was returning home to Juneau from Sitka, where he spent the day campaigning.
He emerged from his flight the Democratic nominee for Alaska governor. Voters narrowed their political parties’ choices from seven candidates to three: Republican Sean Parnell, the incumbent; Libertarian Carolyn Clift, a retired public school teacher; and Mallott. Also on the November 4 ballot is Bill Walker, Independent.
With 435 of 441 precincts counted on Election Night, Mallott received 34,569 of the 51,714 ballots cast for Democratic or Libertarian candidates for governor (Alaska puts Democrats and Libertarians on the same primary ballot); Parnell received 65,267 of 86,403 votes cast for Republican candidates for governor.
Election night, the Mallott and Walker camps were making clear the differences between their candidates. Those distinctions are going to be important; Walker’s Independent candidacy will split the vote in either his favor or Mallott’s.
Mallott and Walker want to diversify Alaska’s oil-dependent economy. Both support expanding Medicaid coverage rather than participating in a federally-managed health care exchange. Both oppose the Pebble Mine, although Walker opposes it if it’s proven, in running mate Craig Fleener’s words, it “would have a detrimental impact on our natural habitat.” Both support writing an alternative to Senate Bill 21, which cut certain taxes and created incentives for oil producers to encourage more investment and production; however, oil production is declining, as are the state’s related revenues. A repeal of SB 21 was on the primary ballot but was too close to call Election Night.
The differences between the candidates? Laury Roberts Scandling, communications director of Mallott for Governor, said Mallott is the “only true moderate” in the campaign, with unmatched experience in business and government.
“There is no one who knows Alaska better than Byron Mallott. He has decades of experience in for-profit and non-profit, and he has a true understanding of rural Alaska and its wonders and challenges,” Scandling said. “He’s a good listener, he brings people together. He believes there’s always a consensus and that you need to find it.”
Mallott, Tlingit, would be the first Alaska Native to serve as the state’s governor. He is a former mayor of Yakutat and Juneau, and served as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs; co-chairman of the state Commission on Rural Governance and Empowerment; chairman of the Nature Conservancy of Alaska; CEO, chairman and director of Sealaska Corporation; and as a director of several banks, including the Federal Reserve Bank.
Mallott also served as executive director of the state’s Permanent Fund Corporation, created by constitutional amendment to manage and protect the state’s income from mineral leases, royalties, and federal mineral revenue-sharing payments. Alaskans receive dividends from this fund.
“The others have no experience like that,” Scandling said.
Mallott supports women’s ability to “choose their own medical treatment” and the “civil right of individuals to choose who they will marry,” Scandling said. She said Mallott has pointed out that Alaska’s constitution does not exclude same-sex couples when it states “all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness” and that all persons are entitled to “equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law.”
Walker, a lawyer and former mayor of Valdez, ran as a Republican for governor in 2010 and lost in the primary. Fleener said Walker chose to run as an Independent this year because he believes partisan politics are too divisive and “he wants to unite Alaskans by being an Independent.”
“One of our concerns is if you have a partisan elected governor, you’re going to have the same governing as usual, with the ruling party making all the decisions,” Fleener said.
“With Walker and Fleener, we’re going to be much more inclusive. We want the best and the brightest [involved in the administration]; we’re not interested in sticking with party lines. There are always good ideas on all sides and we want to bring all parties to the table. We feel Alaska would be governed in a better way [with an Independent governor].”
If Walker and Fleener are elected, it would be the first time both the governor and lieutenant governor were Alaska born. Fleener, Gwich’in Athabascan, would be the second Alaska Native to serve as lieutenant governor.
Their priorities: “We want to balance the budget,” Fleener said. “We’ve had years of overspending. Our message is, we need to get our spending under control. We’re spending our savings to the tune of $7 million a day and we have declining revenues. We need to diversify [Alaska’s economy] and increase our revenues.”
Constitutionally, Alaska’s lieutenant governor has minimal responsibilities. Fleener wants to change that; if elected, Walker is expected to assign him to positions where he can put to work his experience in Arctic policy, military and veterans affairs, Alaska Native issues, and wildlife and fisheries management. Fleener is a major in the U.S. Air Force Alaska Air National Guard, is a former Alaska deputy fish and game commissioner, and served on international, federal and state fish and wildlife conservation panels.
In the latest poll by Real Clear Politics, July 31 to August 3, Parnell was the choice of 37 percent of respondents, Mallott 22 percent, and Walker 20 percent. Mallott’s running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Hollis French, could give the ticket a boost. French has represented Anchorage, the state’s most populous city, in the state Senate for 11 years, and is the current Senate minority leader. But running with Parnell for lieutenant governor is Dan Sullivan, mayor of Anchorage and a former state legislator.
Joining Clift, the Libertarian candidate for governor, on the ticket for lieutenant governor is Andrew C. Lee, owner of a company that mines for gold offshore.
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Updated election results.