Politics in Alaska has always been rather odd. We’re a state full of independent-minded, inconsistently progressive, leave-me-alone-and-get-off-my-porch voters. Our small and isolated population makes for strange political anomalies, ranging from being home to the longest-serving U.S. House Representative in the country to Lisa Murkowski’s historic Senate write-in campaign in 2010. As you can guess, this year’s election season is no exception to Alaska’s unique politics.
Alaska is looking at a historic 3-way race for governor: former Senator Mark Begich (D), current Governor Bill Walker (I) and state Senator Mike Dunleavy (R) are all competing for the seat. The problem is this: the race will almost certainly hand the office of governor to Dunleavy.
While the order of candidates has varied poll-to-poll, Dunleavy is consistently in the lead with both Begich and Walker taking up more than 20 percent of the vote. Unless they can push the other candidates’ support down to nearly single digits, Begich and Walker will split the vote. Should that happen, UAA students should be deeply concerned.
No matter what your political stripes are, Dunleavy represents a threat not only to the state of Alaska, but to public education as a whole. As university students, we should be reasonably apprehensive about his plan to fill the remaining fiscal gap: cut the budget — again. Those cuts include further gutting the operating budget for the University of Alaska, which has already suffered devastating cuts since the fiscal crisis began in 2014. Additionally, Dunleavy proposes more cuts to K-12 education, public health infrastructure and other essential services we rely on as Alaskans.
Even worse, Dunleavy neglects to demonstrate how he’ll bring in new forms of revenue beyond cutting the budget, which has already been slashed by over 40 percent since the start of the crisis. More cuts to the university plus no new revenue spells danger for the UA system: more tuition hikes, brain drain and reduced quality of education. The prospect of a Governor Dunleavy give us more than plenty to worry about.
It’s clear that a 3-way race is unsustainable. Someone has to blink.
That someone ought to be Walker.
To be clear, I’m fairly sympathetic to Walker. He was the only one willing to roll up his sleeves and make tough decisions in order to address the fiscal crisis. He proposed tough cuts and helped start an important conversation about implementing a broad-based tax in the state. While unpopular, those decisions went beyond the stonewalling and cowardice of the Alaska State Legislature, who erred on the side of inaction for fear of angering voters.
That said, Walker lost the trust of Alaskans. He made the irredeemable decision to cap the Permanent Fund Dividend, which many Alaskans rely on to make ends meet. His administration has wasted precious time and money lobbying for an unnecessary LNG pipeline. His proposed tax increases are incredibly unpopular. Alaska still remains one of the worst places to do business in around the country. His cooperation with a largely left-leaning House Majority has created the perception that he’s a liberal in conservative’s clothing. As a result, he can no longer rely on the coalition of Independents, Democrats and moderate Republicans who lifted him to office in 2014. Should he face off against Dunleavy in a one-on-one race, he would almost certainly lose.
Mark Begich, on the other hand, is in an excellent position to win. As a former assemblyman, mayor and senator, he has the resume to outmatch Dunleavy’s experience. He’s also making a return to politics, which gives him an edge against the perception of being a recent insider. Dunleavy, a recent remember of the Senate Majority in the Legislature, is more likely to suffer from this.
Additionally, Begich’s plan to address the remaining budget gap and crime meet both conservative and liberal demands, including protecting the PFD, treatment for opioid addiction, supporting public education and diversifying our streams of revenue. Politically speaking, Begich is comparatively well-placed to defeat Dunleavy.
When Walker vowed to protect and serve Alaskans his inauguration, he may have not anticipated this 3-way race. However, protecting your constituents sometimes comes not just in the form of a piece of legislation but in the form of humility. As it stands, Walker has three choices: continue on in a race doomed for a split, wait for Begich to cave and face certain defeat in November or drop out to give a more viable candidate a shot at winning. In the name of a stronger Alaska, Walker should choose humility.