Governor Elect Bill Walker and his transition team held meetings over the weekend that shed new light on the incoming administration’s priorities, and the very public process they are using to find policy solutions to state-wide issues ranging from fiscal planning to subsistence.
Small working groups made up of stakeholders from across the state met in classrooms all over the UAA campus to discuss a wide spectrum of topics. Gail Anagik Schubert is CEO of the Bering Straits Native Corporation, and brought her region’s needs to conversations within the infrastructure committee.
“We’re on the Bering Straits, and so any of the Arctic development, you know the Northern waters expansion and that sort of thing,” Schubert explained after Sunday’s Plenary Session, “our communities are going to be impacted by it.”
Each of the 17 committees will produce reports from notes taken all weekend long, and share them with the public as well as with all 250 delegates broadly considered part of the transition team. The reports will also be used by the governor and his staff as the starting point for policy revisions.
“This is a listening process, and the question has been asked: what’s the product? The product is you and the relationships you’ve built, and that report,” said Rick Halford, co-chair of the Walker transition team, emphasizing the influence the weekend’s discussions will have on the incoming administration. “It is not intended to stop here, it’s intended to go on.”
Meetings were open to the public, and represent a strong effort to bring as many voices from different parts of the state into the transition process. That has not been the case for most gubernatorial change-overs. Malcolm Roberts was part of Governor Wally Hickel’s transition team in 1990.
“It was only a very small group of people involved,” Roberts recalled, 20 or so advisers meeting behind closed doors. “This is a whole new world,” he added.
The crowd at the meeting’s final session was as diverse as the agenda, with men in suits sitting knee-to-knee with women holding the sunshine ruffs of their parkees, and plenty in between.
“We should identify best practices and utilize tribal structures to capture the values in our state,” read the other chair of the transition team, Ana Hoffman, summarizing comments made from the various committees. “We will achieve sustainability by being conservation-minded. We need to reverse negative trends, to populate our training facilities and not our holding facilities. We all agree to put fish first, and we know that the low-hanging fruit can sustain us,” added Hoffman, earning a laugh from the crowd.
The air of optimistic camaraderie was undercut by the bleak financial outlook facing the state, and conversations early in the weekend about leaner budgets in the years ahead. Walker told the crowd his campaign’s motto of diversity creating unity will be fundamental to his administration’s approach for finding economic solutions.
“Yes, I wish the oil wasn’t at $75, or whatever it is. But it is. And there’s nothing we’re gonna do about that ourselves,” Walker told the large audience. But he stressed bringing his campaign’s motto of diversity creating unity forward into the administration’s approach to developing policy solutions. “We’re gonna work our way out of this because we’re Alaskans.”
“And there’ll be some changes, you bet there will be,” Walker added.
Two of those changes have already been announced, as Walker’s team named new commissioners for his cabinet. Mark Myers will replace Joe Balash at the Department of Natural Resources. And Randall Hoffbeck has been chosen to head the Department of Revenue, a position currently held by Angela Rodell.