Walker-Mallott to run as independents again in 2018
The stars aligned three years ago as Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott formed a so-called "unity ticket" to win the top seats in state government as political independents.
On Monday in Juneau, the two officially filed for re-election and announced they will attempt to again follow a similar path to the one that led them to victory in 2014.
"We believe that independent leadership that relentlessly puts Alaska's priorities first is critical to finishing the work we have started to stabilize and build Alaska," Walker said of the decision in a news release.
Walker was not immediately available for an interview with Channel 2 News.
However, if the incumbents are to hold on, it may require a three-way general election and a series of unpredictable events like the ones that unfolded last time.
In 2014, then-Republican Walker left his party to run as an independent. Mallott, the Democratic nominee for governor, gave up his spot and settled for the second spot on the ticket.
The Alaska Democratic Party then took the unprecedented step of endorsing a gubernatorial non-Democratic ticket.
Rather than running under the banner of either major party, Walker-Mallott will again be designated as "non-affiliated," as the Division of Elections describes independents.
Non-affiliated gubernatorial candidates must gather 3,213 signatures to get on the November ballot, according to the division.
One key question moving forward is whether or not Walker-Mallott will be able to win support from the Democratic Party.
If former Sen. Mark Begich jumps into the race -- or another Democrat likely to win significant support from the left -- the party nominee almost certainly will get the party backing.
Otherwise, if the nominee is willing to bow out, the dollars and organizing capabilities of the party could again funnel in the direction of the independents.
That explains why Jay Parmley, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, offered measured support -- but far less than an endorsement -- at the news of Walker-Mallot running again.
"People who vote in the Democratic primary will make the decision moves forward in terms of our support, but I think you have to say, on balance, that the governor and lieutenant governor certainly have been true to their word in terms of what they've campaigned on now almost four years ago and the work they've done in office since then," Parmley told Channel 2 News.
No Democrats have officially announced a run for governor, with most waiting to see what Begich does. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, is another rumored candidate if the former U.S. senator sits the race out.
Tuckerman Babcock, executive director of the Alaska GOP, on the other hand came out swinging against Walker.
"You'd think as an incumbent you'd have it at least together enough that when you announce you run for re-election you've got your team right there beside you, the Democrats and the AFL-CIO saying, 'Here's our guy.' Instead, crickets," Babcock said in an interview. "Bill Walker is running for re-election on a very spotty record, a failure of accomplishments."
While Babcock criticized many aspects of Walker's record, he was careful to avoid hitting him over one decision that has drawn a great deal of criticism: his support of restructuring the Permanent Fund to help pay for government.
That's because the plan had broad support among GOP lawmakers and many rumored to be mulling a run.
A host of other Republicans are reportedly considering a run, including: former state Sen. John Binkley of Fairbanks, investor Bob Gillam, political organizer Scott Hawkins, and former state Sen. Ben Stevens.
Loren Leman, a former lieutenant governor, told Channel 2 News he is also weighing a run for the state's top job. He said he will not officially reach a decision until after Labor Day.
Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla is the only Republican with an electoral history to announce a bid for governor, and along with Wielechowski, he is one of the only potential candidates to oppose reducing the size of dividends to help deal with the budget deficit.