Last week, if you blinked, you could have missed what happened in Alaska’s race for governor.
UAA gubernatorial debate
The week began with the UAA 2018 Gubernatorial Debate between Gov. Bill Walker (I), former U.S. senator Mark Begich (D) and Billy Toien (L) on Oct. 15.
The debate, which was moderated by UAA Seawolf Debate coach, Steve Johnson, featured questions from a panel of journalists from Anchorage Daily News. The debate focused around the question: “What role should the PFD play in Alaska’s fiscal crisis?”
Noticeably absent was the Republican candidate and former state senator, Mike Dunleavy. Jokes and jabs were had by all of the candidates at Dunleavy’s expense for his tendency to skip out on debates.
Tegan Hanlon of the Anchorage Daily News asked the candidates to grade their opponents’ plans for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the Permanent Fund Dividend.
“There is no grade for this one,” Begich said, gesturing towards Dunleavy’s vacant chair. “‘Needs improvement’ would be a positive… It’s a fail.”
Using the elementary school grading system of “O” for outstanding, “S” for “satisfactory” and “N” for “needs improvement,” both Begich and Walker graded each other’s plan as satisfactory. They also said Toien’s plan needed more work.
“I think [Billy Toien’s] got a lot of data,” Walker said, drawing laughs from the audience as he gestured towards Toien’s cart of physical copies of old state budgets and other books.
When it came time to grade Dunleavy, Walker assigned the Republican candidate a grade of “incomplete,” drawing laughs and claps from the audience.
“[Dunleavy’s] math would put us back in a huge deficit,” he said.
Toien also assigned Dunleavy’s PFD plan a “failing grade,” stating that “apparently, he seems to be clueless on anything outside the budget.”
For both Walker’s and Begich’s plans, Toien said they needed improvement. Unlike his opponents, he gave himself the same grade.
“I’m going to have to agree with somebody again… I’m going to have to agree with Governor Walker [because] this is a work in progress, so I would actually give myself a ‘needs improvement’ because it’s not done,” he said.
The next day, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott unexpectedly resigned.
In a letter, he wrote that his resignation was “a resignation compelled by inappropriate comments I made that placed a person whom I respect and revere in a position of vulnerability.”
Few details have been released on what may have happened. Valerie Davidson was then sworn in as the new lieutenant governor.
Davidson made history as the first Alaska Native woman to hold statewide office in Alaska and the first indigenous woman to hold a statewide office in the United States.
Over the following days, Alaskans wondered how Walker’s campaign for reelection would be affected by the change.
Some thought Walker would have no option other than to suspend his campaign. Publicly, however, Walker maintained that he was focused on being the governor and staying in the race.
On Thursday night, Walker addressed the Alaska Federation of Natives convention and apologized for historical wrongs.
“As the 11th governor of the State of Alaska, I apologize to you, Alaska’s first people, for the wrongs that you have endured for generations,” he said.
“For being forced into boarding schools… Forced to abandon your native language and adopt a foreign one, I apologize.”
“This apology is long overdue.”
On Friday, at the same convention and an hour before a scheduled forum for the three candidates, an announcement was made that the governor was going to address the conference.
“When I said I ran for governor to do the job, not make the decisions to keep the job, I meant exactly what I said,” Walker said. “Every decision I have made as your governor, I have made on the basis of what I believe is best for Alaska.”
Walker then announced that he would be suspending his campaign, effective immediately.
“Alaskans deserve a competitive race. Alaskans deserve a choice other than Mike Dunleavy,” he said.
The announcement was met with surprise but also a standing ovation.
Both Walker’s and Mallott’s names will still be on the ballot on Election Day, and it remains unclear how his withdrawal will affect the election process.