With less than a month until Election Day, the race to become Alaska’s next governor is heating up. Independent candidate Bill Walker and his Democrat running mate are canvassing the state for votes – all the way out to the Aleutians.
It might be a big port community, but it’s not unusual for political campaigns to skip Unalaska. The town is hard to get to and there aren’t a lot of voters on the other side.
But most candidates don’t have a retired Unalaska city servant running their campaign.
Nancy Peterson: “Thank you, Bill, for coming to my town. This is just so awesome.”
Unalaska’s old director of public works, Nancy Peterson, brought Walker to the Norwegian Rat Saloon on Friday night. About 40 residents munched on hot dogs and homemade chips and fired off questions at the candidate.
Walker came prepared to talk about his vision for a bipartisan administration. But some voters, like Nolie Magpantay, were still curious:
Magpantay: “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?”
Walker: “I’m an Alaskan. I run as an Independent.
Magpantay: “Independent? Okay, okay.”
Walker explained that he jumped parties to run for governor after years as a Republican. Unalaskans usually lean Democrat, but Magpantay said that’s not written in stone.
Magpantay: “Well, we support[ed] Lisa last time when she was write-in.”
That’s Lisa Murkowski. And that write-in was her 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate, as a Republican.
Magpantay: “You know, I was a Democrat, but whatever we need as Alaska. So we got together here and that’s what we did — and she won.”
That’s what Walker and Mallott are banking on. Their campaign promises to put Alaska first, on projects like a natural gas pipeline.
At the bar — and in an interview this weekend — Walker said he wants to tweak the current structure so the state owns the biggest share. He believes that would get gas flowing faster to rural communities.
“Any place that’s connected with a road, a river, an ocean in Alaska should be able to have access to our natural resources,” Walker said. “There’s various sources of renewable energy that would be very effective. We’re not one-commodity-fits-all. But boy, any time we can get liquefied natural gas to you at a very low cost, I’m all about that.”
High energy costs are a persistent problem in the Aleutians. But the region’s also wrapped up in thorny policy issues — like whether to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
“If there’s a genuine issue to have a road for medical, medevacs, for health and safety reasons, I’ll work aggressively to make sure there’s a road built,” Walker said.
Governor Sean Parnell’s administration recently turned to the courts to get that done. But Walker’s not sure if he would continue with the two lawsuits they have in process.
Walker: “The slowest way to do something is through litigation. I own a law firm. The wheels of justice move pretty darn slowly. And when you’re taking on the largest law firm in the nation, which is the federal government, that doesn’t always expedite the process. No, there are other ways of addressing that–“
–like talking to stakeholders and negotiating directly with the federal government.
Walker says he’d take a similar approach to dealing with poor salmon runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.
Some tribes and subsistence fishermen are trying get regulators to crack down on bycatch in the commercial pollock harvest. That fishery is a huge source of revenue for the state, and for Unalaska.
Walker says he doesn’t know enough about the issue yet to take a position.
“I’ve learned the hard way over the years,” Walker said. “If I don’t know the answer to something, I don’t try to guess at something. I know there’s a problem. And I’ll certainly be a part of finding the root cause of the problem.”
Walker’s sure to hear more about salmon on his next campaign stop in Bethel. After that, he’ll continue touring the state — asking far-flung voters for their support on November 4.