JUNEAU, Alaska - Republican Bill Walker announced plans Thursday to run as an unaffiliated candidate for governor next year.
The move would allow Walker to bypass a primary with Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. If he gathers the required 3,017 signatures to qualify, Walker could get his name on the November general election ballot.
Walker told a news conference in Anchorage it's time for Alaskans to come together, regardless of party, to move the state forward. He was joined by the president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, Vince Beltrami, and Debra Holle Brown, a former state GOP chairwoman.
Walker called himself an "old-school Republican" in the mold of the late former Govs. Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond. He said running as an independent - something he said he'd been encouraged to do - just felt right.
He said he wants to fight for Alaska without limitations.
"It's a better fit," he said.
Hickel and Hammond never would have stood for th e oil tax cut passed during the last legislative session and championed by Parnell, Walker said, or for what Walker sees as the state's wrong-headed approach in trying to develop North Slope natural gas. He said in a statement that it seemed to him that if you don't support things like the oil tax cut, then you're not considered a "good Republican."
Walker told reporters he doesn't need a party platform or rules to know what's best for Alaska when there's the constitution to draw from, and common sense.
His announcement drew a swift response for current GOP chair Peter Goldberg, who said Walker's decision came as no surprise to Alaska Republicans.
"He has strayed from our platform and principles over time and now aligns with liberals like Mark Begich, Barack Obama and progressive legislators over the state's current leaders," Goldberg said in a statement. Republicans currently control the state House, Senate and governor's office.
Parnell's campaign manager, Jerry Gallagher, said in a statement that Parnell's "strong and steady leadership for all Alaskans will continue regardless of where Bill Walker finally lands."
Walker is a former mayor of Valdez known for his support of an all-Alaska natural gas pipeline. He said energy is a major issue, but he also has concerns about things like health care and education.
Walker finished second behind Parnell in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary and complained that Parnell hadn't shown up for some of the debates.
Beltrami said he's a Democrat and doesn't plan to change his voter registration anytime soon. But he said Walker has been a "stalwart" on behalf of Alaska working families and he supports him.
Brown was swept into leadership in the state GOP by Ron Paul supporters at the 2012 convention and briefly served as party chair before being ousted earlier this year. She made clear, too, that she's a staunch Republican but said she believes Walker is the right candidate fo r governor. She said he is "stepping out boldly for all the right reasons."