Dec. 1 marked one year since Gov. Bill Walker put his hand on a family Bible that’s hundreds of years old and took the oath of office. Also on that day, Walker — a Republican-turned-Independent — and his lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott — a Democrat — launched an unprecedented bi-partisan administration.
On Frontiers this week, we look back on the Walker administration’s first year to see how Walker has navigated some of the biggest challenges facing an Alaska governor in history – mainly the $3.5-billion budget gap he inherited, when oil prices took a sudden nosedive and stubbornly refused to climb. It looks like he’ll have to close a similar deficit in his second year of office and perhaps beyond.
Our guests this week are two veteran political observers — Tim Bradner, a natural resources writer for the Alaska Journal of Commerce, and Larry Persily, who has worked for three governors, served as the Alaska Federal Pipeline Coordinator and is currently an advisor on natural gas issues for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
We take a look at Walker’s public and political personas — how he seems to be popular with the public yet has troubles dealing with the Republican Majority in the Legislature.
We ask the question: Can Walker continue to be at odds with the Republican leadership? He has some heavy lifting to do next session, which includes proposals likely to be unpopular with the public but necessary to address Alaska’s budget crisis. One of those involves tapping the earnings of the Permanent Fund, which could mean capping the dividend or reducing it.
Most of Walker’s troubles with the Majority stem from his handling of the Alaska Liquified Natural Gas Project, set in motion during Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration. They fear Walker is attempting to dismantle AKLNG, despite his claims to the contrary. The governor insists his agenda is based on what’s best for Alaska and, in many cases, is to maintain some leverage over the oil giants.
So this is a question we put to Bradner and Persily: Is Walker the “masterful maverick” on oil and gas issues — or, is he what his critics call a “bungling buccaneer.”
It sure was fun to hear their analysis of our governor’s first year and their take on what he could face next session. Larry and Tim have a dry sense of humor, so you can expect to be entertained as well as informed on this edition of Frontiers.