FAIRBANKS — In an unprecedented move, the Alaska Democratic Party merged its ticket for Alaska governor headed by Byron Mallott with independent candidate Bill Walker’s ticket, a move the new “unity ticket” hopes will allow them to unseat Gov. Sean Parnell.
The two officially announced the merger on Tuesday, following a weekend of negotiations that ended with Walker dropping his Alaska Republican Party affiliation and the Alaska Democratic Party voting to dissolve its ticket to support the independent candidacy.
“We’re doing this because Alaska’s broke and we need to fix it,” Walker told a jubilant crowd at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. “What they (members of the Alaska Democratic Party) have done is put people before partisanship. We’re going to stop the fighting and we’re going to fix Alaska on Alaska’s terms.”
Walker said Alaska’s in a crisis that’s on par with the 1964 Anchorage earthquake or the 1967 Fairbanks floods, but that this one has to do with Alaska’s fiscal future. He said those disasters were fixed by Alaskans, not by political parties. He stressed that his administration would not just be bipartisan, but that it would be “no-partisan.”
He painted a tougher fiscal future, including a possibility of vetoing items contained in the state capital projects budget.
The campaign merge had been heavily rumored in recent days and was a condition for backing of the ticket by national unions. Both campaigns had been polling well behind incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell, and labor leaders stated publicly that they didn’t believe either could win as long as both remained in the race.
The Alaska Democratic Party called together an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon, voting 89-2 to back the ticket.
At the announcement, Mallott said that during the last year of campaigning that the two men have come to respect and trust each other, finding that they have much in common.
“I could not have made the decision I have made if I did not come to know and trust and believe in the integrity of Bill Walker,” Mallott said, explaining that over time he found he had more in common with Walker than not. “They overlapped so much, that there was little differentiation between us.”
The two candidates, however, don’t see eye to eye on everything, particularly on social issues. Mallott said he supports same sex marriage and believes Alaska shouldn’t restrict access to abortions by selectively paying for poor women’s abortions, but Walker said he supports the constitutional ban on same-sex marriages and opposes abortions.
When questioned on their positions, the two candidates downplayed their differences but didn’t back away from their positions.
“I’m a conservative, and I’ll continue to be a conservative. I haven’t changed anything to make this work,” Walker said. “We want to fix the economy.”
Walker did say he shares Mallott’s opposition to state-funded vouchers for private and religious schools.
Parnell and the Alaska Republican Party, however, were quick to paint a picture of Mallot and Walker being in lock-step with President Barack Obama’s policies. A press release sent out by the Alaska Republican Party termed the new ticket as “Obama’s Alaska Team” that’s embraced the “far-left Obama extremism.”
“The Democrat gubernatorial ticket of Walker-Mallott offers a clear choice for Alaskans who want more of President Obama’s policies in Alaska,” Governor Parnell said in statement released by his campaign.
On the arrangement with Walker leading the ticket and Mallott stepping down into the lieutenant governor spot, Walker said it came down polling statistics.
“It came down to the numbers on a head-to-head poll,” he said. “We had a poll taken shortly after the primary and it showed me four percent above Gov. Parnell in a head-to-head poll. ... Because of that, with me ahead of Gov. Parnell in a head-to-head poll, that was certainly part of the decision.”
The former lieutenant governor candidates for the two men, Craig Fleener for Walker and Hollis French for Mallott, have agreed to step aside and support the new combined ticket. Fleener was present for the announcement in Anchorage; French was not present.
Tom Hewitt contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.