Walker remains in the race — for now

Republican former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy, moderator John Sturgeon, independent Gov. Bill Walker, and Democratic former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich attend the debate on resource development at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage on Thursday (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Gov. Bill Walker said Thursday that he intends to stay in the race for governor – unless something changes.

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Walker talked to reporters after a debate with the other candidates for governor, Republican Mike Dunleavy and Democrat Mark Begich.

When asked if he’s committed to staying in the race until the Nov. 6 election, Walker responded:

“I’m 100 percent committed to a process, and we’ll see what happens between now, now and election day,” Walker said. “I’ll tell you what: It’s been an interesting few months. I’ll put it that way.”

Democratic leaders have asked for Walker to end his campaign.

It’s too late to be removed from the ballot. Roughly 1,000 absentee ballots have already been returned.

Walker said his message to those considering voting early is that he’s still in the race and that new Lt. Gov. Valerie Nurr’araaluuk Davidson would be very good at the job. He pushed back on a question about whether anyone else could become lieutenant governor.

“It’s too soon for that,” Walker said. “I don’t have any reason to think it would be anybody other than Val Davidson. I think she’s a phenomenal Alaskan and she’s eminently qualified for that position.”

Dunleavy asked Begich during the debate if he’s in negotiations with the Walker camp to cut a deal for one of them to drop out. Begich said he’d like Dunleavy to drop out.

Walker added that the Republican Party asked him to be their candidate. He later clarified that Republicans spoke with someone close to him after Dunleavy filed to run last year.

“Yeah, they contacted me,” Walker said. “They wanted me to be their candidate.”

Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock denied that. He said in a press release that Walker “attempted a lame joke – unless recent stress is causing him to lose grip on reality.”

Babcock said the party’s only contact regarding Walker was from Walker’s chief of staff Scott Kendall, asking if Walker could run as a Republican. Babcock said the party told him it was a free country, but predicted the reception would not be warm.

Walker was a Republican until he ran in 2014 as an independent, and said he wanted to remain an independent.

“For me, it’s not a matter of hanging on at any cost, hanging on for another four years at any cost,” Walker said. “I still got to be the same person walking out that walked in. And I’m not going to become somebody else to do that. I’m just not.”

Walker’s administration was shaken Tuesday by the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. Walker has said Mallott made an inappropriate overture to an unnamed female victim. Walker said he made a commitment to the victim to only disclose information he had discussed with her. He said that saying more would violate her rights.

“What kind of a message would that send?” Walker said of the idea of violating the commitment. “You know, it’s more important for us to get it out for our benefit for, you know, campaign purposes and at the victim’s expense? What’s going to be the message to other victims, that won’t come forward and say they felt something was inappropriate? We want them to come forward, you know. We want them to. So we aren’t going to be the ones that are going to walk away from that commitment. I’m just not going to do it.”

The governor’s wife Donna Walker stepped in to say Mallott did the right thing by resigning.

“He paid the price — you can’t really get much more of a price out of a situation like this – stepped down from the second-highest job in the state,” she said. “And he and his family are suffering. This is a man whose, you know, outstanding career, so many accomplishments. … The family’s in grief. And we’re in grief with them.”

Donna Walker said speculation online about Mallott is far from the truth.