It was a celebratory tone in Juneau today during the inauguration ceremony for Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott. After opening songs by the Mount Saint Elias Dancers, David Kingeisti Katzeek gave a traditional welcome that emphasized the unity campaign’s theme.
“Say it loud” “Woo-CHEEN” “It means ‘together.’ Together. Together–there’s not a thing we cannot accomplish,” Katzeek
Both Walker and Mallott were sworn in, sharing a stage with outgoing governor Parnell, as well as U.S. Senator-elect Dan Sullivan.
Dressed in traditional Tlingit regalia, Mallott’s short address focused on political bipartisanship and cultural empowerment.
“Whether we wear Carhartts, blue jeans, fancy suits, or silk ties. Whether we fish, or whether we work with your hands,” Mallott said. “We can empathize. We can know from Angoon to Anaktuvuk Pass, to Anchorage, that we Alaskans can be one.”
Mallott concluded with a call to “Rise As One,” the motto at this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives meeting.
After thanking all those who helped his campaign, Governor Walker gave an emotional personal account of his own life. He says it mirrors the narrative of the state he now leads.
“My family’s story is Alaska’s story. Ya know, I remember my parents efforts and advocacy for statehood,” Walker said. “Forever etched in my memory is the very day that eight stars of the Alaska flag became the 49th star of the United States of American flag.”
Walker said inclusivity and transparency will be the hallmarks of his administration. He gave a general nod to expanding energy programs as the way to fix the state’s troubled budget outlook.
“Today oil was hovering in the $70 range. We’re heading for some lean times,” Walker said. “There is no reason we cannot turn that around. We live in one of the most resource rich states in the nation, in one of the richest countries in the world. The key to every growing economy is low cost energy. We don’t have a resource problem in Alaska, we have a distribution problem.”
Walker’s address was light on specific policy points, although he pledged to immediately begin work to expand Medicaid coverage in Alaska. Later he appointed Valerie Davidson as the new commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services. Davidson championed Medicaid expansion in her former job with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
Walker also named former Democratic legislator Sam Cotten as his acting commissioner of Fish and Game. Marty Rutherford, who held a post in the Department of Natural Resources during Sarah Palin’s adminstration, will be rejoining the agency as a deputy commissioner.