Gov. Walker suspends campaign for reelection in AFN announcement

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker listens to a question from KTOO and Alaska Public Media reporter Andrew Kitchenman from his Capitol office in Juneau on June 19, 2018. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker announced today that he is suspending his campaign for reelection. That leaves a two-person race for governor between Republican Mike Dunleavy and Democrat Mark Begich.

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Walker made the announcement onstage at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage, with Dunleavy and Begich in the crowd. It comes after Walker’s lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, resigned and dropped out of the race Tuesday. Walker said Mallott had made inappropriate comments to a woman.

Walker repeated his campaign slogan “Alaska First” and talked about accomplishments from what will be his one term in office.

“With that said, effective today, I am suspending my campaign for reelection as governor,” Walker said.

The crowd gasped.

Walker says he made the decision after discussions about whether he or Begich had a better chance against Dunleavy.

“The determination was made that at this point, Begich has the better odds,” Walker said.

Walker expressed concern about the potential reversal of the Medicaid expansion by Dunleavy, “whose campaign record and rhetoric indicates that he will eliminate Medicaid expansion that has provided healthcare access to 44,000 Alaskans, created jobs, and brought $1 billion of federal dollars into an economy that dearly needed it, decreasing statewide health care expenditures by $16 million and kept hospitals from closing and saved lives.”

Walker also predicted that Dunleavy would take away funding for the Alaska natural gas pipeline.

The move could allow Begich to pull closer to Dunleavy in the race for governor. The names of Walker and Mallott must remain on the ballot, because it’s past the deadline to withdraw. Libertarian Billy Toien also is running.

Walker is the nation’s only independent governor.

He begin his administration with broad support. A national poll in early 2016 listed him as among the country’s most popular governors. But that June, Walker’s decision to veto half of Permanent Fund Dividend funding began a long decline in his approval rating.

While the Legislature voted for two later PFD cuts, Walker took much of the blame. The reductions allowed the Permanent Fund to grow, which Walker argues will allow PFDs to continue into the future.

The move also allowed the Legislature to pass a plan to pay for state government using Permanent Fund earnings. Walker said that without this, deep reductions in state government services would hurt Alaskans by harming schools, health care and the state’s economy.

But political opponents criticized Walker for the cuts and capitalized on the PFD cuts’ unpopularity.

Walker said he was disappointed and that if there had been more time before the election, he thought he and newly appointed Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson would’ve had a better chance.

But Walker repeated something he said he told his cabinet earlier this week in an emergency meeting.

“Ultimately, it’s not how long my team and I serve, it’s how well we serve the people and the state we love while we have the opportunity and the honor to serve,” Walker said.

This story contains contributions from Casey Grove, Andrew Kitchenman and Wesley Early.