Staffing the Grill & State: Walker’s First Governor’s Picnic

Gov. Bill Walker hosted his first Governor’s Picnic in Juneau on Friday at the University of Alaska Southeast. While serving up hot dogs and salmon, KTOO’s Elizabeth Jenkins asked picnic-goers what they’d do as governor for the day.

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Walker greets people at his first Juneau Governor's Picnic. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
Walker greets people at his first Juneau Governor’s Picnic. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The community lined up on a warm, sunny afternoon to mingle with state officials but also for the free food: hot dogs, salmon, and locally made ice cream. Gov. Walker was dressed for the occasion.

“Well, I’m wearing my cook outfit. My apron. My governor’s picnic apron and it’s the third time I’ve worn this outfit,” he says.

He says it can be tough doing double duty: serving the public filets of fish and being a politician.

“My problem is this: I like to shake hands and say hello to people and I have to wear a plastic glove and then I have to take it back off, put it back on, take it back on,” Walker says.

Brenda Calkins and her daughter are waiting in line. They’re inching closer to the governor but not sure what they’ll say as he serves them a piece of salmon.

“Yeah, I don’t know if I have anything. … I might have to think up a question in, like two seconds,” Calkins says.

In years past, the governor’s picnic has been held at Sandy Beach. This year, it’s on the UAS campus to highlight education and kids activities.

A fire truck is parked nearby for children to hop aboard. And like the food, there’s a line for that, too. Volunteer firefighter Steven Anderson is making sure everything runs smoothly.

“I’ve been doing this about five years. As much as I can I come out to the community events,” Anderson says.

What would he do if he was governor for the day?

“I don’t know much about politics and I don’t think I could change much for a day. I’d be kickin’ back in the mansion,” he says.

After thinking a few seconds, he says he’d work on increasing the budget for firefighting.

The Thunder Mountain High School football team also helped out at the event.

“Just kind of picking up trash, handing out fliers and at one point we were helping people find a place to park,” says left tackle Josh Quinto.

He has his own ideas about what he’d do if he were governor–more community events.

“I think at most, maybe throw a big party. I’d have different music everyday. Maybe some rock, country occasionally. So random stuff like Fall Out Boy or Nickelback, I guess,” Quinto says. “Definitely not the same food. Maybe something other than salmon, I don’t know like halibut. Fish and chips, those are always good.”

Picnic-goers lounge on a half-moon concrete bench, scraping food off paper plates and watching people play corn hole.

Andualem Fanta is watching the fun. He travels for work with Delta Airlines.

“I am originally from Ethiopia so I migrated to U.S. I lived in different state. But this my first time the governor invited everybody and having a good time,” Fanta says.

What would he do as governor?

“If I’m a governor, today? Serve the people like this. It could be a great opportunity to show you care about the people,” Fanta says.

From everyone, there was a variety of responses from dog racing, building a pipeline and making it permanently sunny in Juneau.

Brenda Calkins and her daughter make it through the end of the food line. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker ducked out for a photo-op with a costumed bear but first lady Donna Walker is still there.

“I didn’t know it was the first lady,” Calkins says with a laugh.

Which is what the Governor’s Picnic is all about. Getting to know your officials.