Since April, gubernatorial challengers Byron Mallott and Bill Walker have gone after incumbent Sean Parnell for skipping debates. They hit that point again on Monday, at a candidate forum hosted by the National Congress of American Indians.
Independent candidate Bill Walker didn’t even finish his opening statement before taking a swipe at the governor.
“You know who’s not on the panel with us — Gov. Parnell has chosen not to show,” said Walker. “I think that’s a shame that he chooses not to participate in these processes. Remember that on election day.”
Democrat Byron Mallott went after Parnell, too.
“Bill and I have spent many months on the campaign trail thus far, and it’s almost like we’re the only two candidates,” said Mallott.
Their displeasure with Parnell’s absence was one of a few areas where the competing candidates agreed on Monday. For example, they also told attendees at the National Congress of American Indians that the state needs to make a disaster declaration in response to the high energy prices in rural areas.
Because of the similarities in their platforms, the candidates were asked if they feared splitting the vote in a way that could benefit Parnell. Walker again pivoted back to Parnell’s debate attendance.
“The other guy doesn’t seem to show up, doesn’t seem to pay attention or want to engage with the public,” said Walker. “He’ll come in third, so we’ll be fine.”
Since Walker and Mallott announced their candidacies last year, Parnell has joined them in two candidate forums and skipped four.
His campaign manager, Jerry Gallagher says Parnell will be participating in a “large number” of debates after the primary.
“We don’t obviously want to take anything for granted and we want to respect process, and we’ll do that and then move on to the general,” said Gallagher in a phone interview.
As the incumbent governor, Parnell is expected to easily win the Republican nomination. Two of his three challengers — Gerald Heikes and Brad Snowden — have run for governor before and received less than 1 percent of the vote or were disqualified, respectively. Russ Millette is the best known candidate running against Parnell in the primary. Millette was elected chair of the Alaska Republican Party by a group of libertarian-minded activists, but was quickly ousted by the party’s establishment wing.
Gallagher says there are currently no specific plans to debate those primary candidates, but adds that Parnell will consider campaign events on a case-by-case basis.
The next debate Parnell plans to attend is in August, with at least five more events scheduled after the primary.