Lt. Gov. Mallott steps down amid 'inappropriate comments'
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has stepped down after Gov. Bill Walker says he learned Mallott "made inappropriate comments that do not reflect the sterling level of behavior required in his role as Lieutenant Governor."
Mallott, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014, became Walker's running mate when the two men famously joined forces on a "unity ticket" to defeat then-Gov. Sean Parnell.
In his resignation letter provided by Walker's office, Mallott said, "I take full responsibility for this action and apologize to, and seek healing for, the person I hurt."
No statement was immediately released Tuesday by Walker's Democratic challenger, Mark Begich. The former Anchorage mayor and U.S. senator declined to discuss Mallott's departure Tuesday night as he arrived at a benefit for the Alaska Native Justice Center, held near the CIRI building in Anchorage.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy, who has led at least one recent poll in his three-way race with Walker and Begich, issued a brief statement on the resignation.
“As we, like all Alaskans, await details surrounding the resignation of the lieutenant governor, our campaign remains focused on restoring trust in state government," Dunleavy said. “We need safe neighborhoods, a healthy economy and full Permanent Fund dividends. This campaign has always been about the people of Alaska, not politicians.”
Walker spoke briefly on the matter Tuesday afternoon in a news conference at the Atwood Building in downtown Anchorage. He did not take questions.
"Byron has taken full responsibility for his actions and he has submitted his resignation," Walker said.
On Tuesday evening, Walker discussed some additional details of the incident.
"Last night, I learned that Sunday night there was a conversation the lieutenant governor had that was inappropriate," Walker said.
Mallott's actions prompted Walker to call an emergency Cabinet meeting Tuesday.
"[I] told them, 'You know, it's not how long we're here; it's what we do while we're here,'" Walker said. "'Every day we do what we can, and if this impacts how long we're here then so be it.'"
Val Davidson, commissioner for the Department of Health and Social Services, succeeds Mallott. She was sworn in by Walker earlier Tuesday. The Legislature confirmed Davidson as a potential successor earlier this year.
"Alaskans deserve the highest standards of conduct by their elected officials," Davidson said in a statement prepared by Walker's office. "While I am deeply saddened by the resignation of Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, I am profoundly disappointed by his conduct.
"Respect for women, and the dignity of all Alaskans, is our responsibility. I stand ready to serve as your Lieutenant Governor."
Walker spokespersons Austin Baird and Grace Jang declined to say Tuesday what Mallott said. They said the comments were made to a woman who was not a member of the administration.
"There's a lot to work through," Baird said. "There's a lot to process; we're trying to work through things in a way that keeps the victim in mind."
In a separate statement Tuesday from Walker's campaign, the governor clarified what Mallott's departure means for the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
"Byron's resignation also applies to the campaign," Walker said. "Though he cannot remove his name from the ballot, he will not accept the position of Lieutenant Governor if elected. Val Davidson will be sworn in as Lieutenant Governor and will also assume this role on the campaign. We hold everyone on our team to a high standard in all of their words and actions. This campaign and the stakes of this election are greater than any one person."
The state Division of Elections confirmed in a statement Tuesday afternoon that Mallott's name will appear alongside Walker's on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
"Under state law, it is too late for a candidate to withdraw from the ballot; that must happen at least 64 days before the general election," state officials wrote, "Under the Alaska Constitution, a vote for governor is considered a vote for the lieutenant governor running with him or her. Even if a lieutenant governor withdraws, the gubernatorial candidate may remain on the ballot. Accordingly, if Governor Walker is re-elected, Byron Mallott will technically be elected along with him. However, given Mr. Mallott’s resignation, Governor Walker would be able to appoint a lieutenant governor successor consistent with state statute."
The state Senate's Democratic leader, Berta Gardner, said Tuesday afternoon that she had "full confidence" in Davidson even as she condemned the conduct which led to Mallott's resignation.
"I am truly disappointed by the event relating to the Lt. Governor," Gardner said in a statement. "As elected public officials, we must maintain public trust and uphold integrity. I send my condolences to the victim of this event and the family members of Lt. Governor Mallott who are impacted."
Word also spread quickly of Mallott, a member of Southeast Alaska's Tlingit tribe, stepping down spread quickly at the Elders & Youth Conference preceding this week's Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage. Former North Slope Borough mayor Eugene Brower called the move a shocker, saying it'll take time to process.
Jim LaBelle, a retired University of Alaska Anchorage professor of Alaska Native history at the conference, said he was having a hard time processing the news in part because Mallott has made many contributions to the Native community.
Rhonda McBride, Daniella Rivera and John Thain contributed information to this story.
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