Interview with Bill Walker, Independent Candidate for State Governor
by CARLOS MATías
Bill Walker is Alaska’s only independent candidate for governor. He will compete against Democrat Les Gara, Libertarians Billy Tolen and Roman Shovchuk, and Republicans Christopher Kurka and Mike Dunleavy, the current governor.
We asked Bill Walker the same questions we asked Les Gara last month (see November issue). But Walker has omitted to answer two: “Name three reasons why Alaskans should elect you,” and whether he will “promote official aid for entrepreneurs and small businesses affected by the Covid pandemic.” Here are his answers:
What are the most pressing needs in Alaska? Why should Alaskans elect you as governor? The next governor will be tasked with rebuilding Alaska after one of the toughest chapters in our state’s history. Part of that rebuilding process is getting the economy off the ground again and getting people back to work. Equally important is a commitment to ending the cycle of divisiveness. Far too many politicians obtain power by dividing neighbors rather than working to unite us as Alaskans.
I previously served you as governor, and my Lieutenant Governor running mate, Heidi Drygas, served you as Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development. We are running as independent candidates to represent every Alaskan and to make it so everyone in our state feels welcome here, and has a bright future. One critical way we will accomplish this is by forming a cabinet reflective of our state’s diversity, with representation for people from many walks of life and with different perspectives, including from the Hispanic community.
Are you in favor of exploiting natural resources such as oil and gas, even though this can damage the environment and part of one of the best biosphere reserves on the planet? Alaska is one of the first places to feel the economic and cultural devastation that climate change can cause. Our coastline is eroding, villages are being forced to relocate, and permafrost thaw is threatening homes and buildings across our state. In 2017, we established the Climate Action Leadership Team, a 15-member group filled with diverse stakeholders that outlined solutions we can take here at home. We will convene a similar group again on day one of the Walker-Drygas Administration, as the current governor disbanded this important work.
At the same time, Alaska’s economy is rooted in the oil and gas industry. Even as the world is clearly growing in another direction, we also acknowledge that Alaska does resource development right. Resource development projects with local support should continue to move forward.
The coronavirus pandemic has been especially violent in recent weeks in Alaska. What should Governor Mike Dunleavy do to solve this serious problem? The Department of Health and Social Services did a wonderful job during a historically challenging situation, and Dr. Anne Zink continues to demostrate real leadership. Governor Dunleavy, on the other hand, played politics at every turn throughout the pandemic. As one example, he ended the emergency declaration because it sounded good even though it took away key tools to address surges of new coronavirus variants. Failing to declare something a disaster doesn’t make the disaster go away. The governor also failed to respond to the cries for help from hospitals, rural communities, and countless others watching loved ones die. Further, he struggled to get relief funds out the door to hurting businesses and did nothing creative to incentivize vaccines. The overall failure of leadership caused Alaska to do worse than any other state in COVID cases and deaths at a time when everywhere else in the country was getting back on track.
Do you think governor Dunleavy and mayor Bronson are obligated to wear masks and force officials to wear them in official buildings, as recommended by CDC authorities? Would you require teachers and students to wear masks in schools? Leaders need to do exactly what that word suggests: lead. The current governor should have encouraged masking even when the cameras were not rolling. Instead, he repeatedly attended super-spreader events without a mask. Our administration would both lead by example and create a system that enacts the advice of public health officials rather than making political calculations that impact the health of Alaskans.
What do you know about the Hispanic community in Alaska? What are their main needs? During my time as governor, one of the greatest honors was to preside over my nephew’s naturalization ceremony in Anchorage. He married into our family more than 20 years ago in a small ceremony in Morelia, Michoacán. Soon after, he and his wife decided to return to Alaska and start their family in Valdez. Additionally, our grandchildren’s experiences with the Spanish Immersion programs at Somos Amigos, Government Hill, and Romig have given us a small window into Alaska’s Hispanic community. From my experiences with the many cultures in Alaska, the first step to understanding the needs of any community is to engage members of the community. When I served as governor, I was active with Bridge Builders in Anchorage and Juneau. While I cannot speak to every need of our Hispanic community, I know that good jobs, food security, affordable housing, educational and job training opportunities are important to all of us. So are safe, respectful, and healthy communities. I am committed to strengthening relationships, listening, and learning to understand Alaska’s Hispanic community better, and in turn, helping provide a better future for all Alaskans. What will you do to improve conditions for equal rights for women and men? During my first term as governor, I stepped up and expanded access to Medicaid when the Legislature would not act. This decision enabled more than 60,000 Alaskans with limited financial resources to receive access to affordable healthcare. The policy was enacted in a way that actually saved the State of Alaska money: services previously paid for by the state are now covered by federal Medicaid dollars. It appears likely that the federal Build Back Better Bill will include universal pre-K to states that opt-in, meaning the next governor could decide whether to implement universal pre-K. Our administration absolutely would as we view this as one of the most significant ways to ensure that women have equal footing in our economy.
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