Gov. Bill Walker has suspended his campaign for re-election.

 

The announcement happened before a candidate forum at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention on Friday afternoon in Anchorage, ending a week that also featured the resignation of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott.

 

Walker stunned the standing room-only crowd.

“In the time remaining it’s become clear we cannot win a three way race. Every decision I’ve made as your governor, I’ve made on the basis of what I believe is best for Alaska. With that said effective today I am suspending my campaign for reelection as governor,” he said.

 

While Walker remained on stage, a spokesperson for Democratic candidate Mark Begich declined comment. Later in a scheduled AFN gubernatorial debate, Begich addressed the governor's move.

"I do want to acknowledge the amazing courageous action that the governor did," Begich said. "He was about Alaska. Being courageous like that is few and far between in politics today. I do my best not to watch the news at night anymore because it’s just so negative."

After the debate, Begich said the content of Walker's message resonated with him.

"I think his message is a great message, it's about unity and moving Alaska forward," he said. "It's very clear what he said and I give him a lot of credit. He put Alaska first and focus on the future of Alaska is what this campaign is about"

Republican candidate Mike Dunleavy said he was surprised by the announcement.

"Apparently, he did the right thing for himself," Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said he had prepared for a three-way race and that Walker's announcement doesn't affect their campaign.

"I think our advantage is our message and philosophy on how to fix Alaska," he said.

Walker’s news comes one day after he issued an apology to Alaska Natives for generations of suffering, often inflicted by state and federal government.

“I apologize to you, Alaska’s first people for the wrong that you have endured for generations,” he said. “For being forced into boarding schools, I apologize. For being forced to abandon your native language and adopt a foreign one, I apologize.

“For erasing your history I apologize. For the generational, historical problems, you have suffered, I apologize.”

For an hour after Walker’s announcement, a hushed crowd sat, some fighting back tears, other letting them flow without wiping them. On stage, Alaska Native leaders from each region took turns thanking Walker for his service.

They cited Thursday’s apology and how he strengthened ties between the state government and Native communities. They also touched on how he kept his keeping his word when he promised to take action, and for his role and freeing the Fairbanks Four.

“You fought for education, for every single woman and child out there and the Indian Child Welfare Act, you got behind us where no one else had,” said P.J. Simon, a Doyon Ltd. board member, just before transferring a necklace from his neck to Walker’s.

Walker said in a news conference after the announcement that the recent controversy surrounding Byron Mallott's sudden resignation was not the sole reason for his decision to end the campaign.

There are still no clear answers from the Walker administration about what the former lieutenant governor did prior to resigning. All that's known right now is that Mallott made "inappropriate comments."

Both Walker and new Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson talked about Mallott at AFN on Thursday but didn't talk about the specifics of the incident.

However, the campaign had hurdles before then. Things instantly got tough for Gov. Bill Walker the minute Democrat Mark Begich filed to run for governor on June 1, the last eligible day for prospective candidates.

From there, polls pegged a Mike Dunleavy ticket as a likely winner with Begich and Walker splitting a finite number of prospective voters. Both had been repeatedly asked if they would step down to reduce the chances of Dunleavy getting four years in office.

Neither budged.

Walker’s term could be most characterized by cutting the Permanent Fund Dividend, expanding Medicaid and efforts to craft a long-term fiscal plan.

He was the first to reduce the dividend, something the Legislature also did in the subsequent two years.

Walker’s battles with the Legislature even landed him in court, after he unilaterally expanded Medicaid eligibility during the interim. The governor prevailed in court and currently an additional 44,000-plus Alaska residents are covered through the expansion.

Efforts to secure a long-term fiscal as chronically low oil prices thrust the state into a multi-billion deficit came up short. Walker proposed highly unpopular steps toward a plan: a suite of taxes, including those on income, fuel and liquor. The Legislature balked at Walker’s ideas and dug in its heels. What ensued during the impasse were a prolonged recession, credit rating slides that never recovered and spending nearly $14 billion in savings to cover basic government services.

Walker never had the benefit of high oil prices that his recent predecessors had and battles with the Legislature over how to respond led to multiple special sessions.

When Walker was sworn in early December 2014, North Slope oil sold for just under $70 per barrel.

By the time the legislative session began the next month, oil fell about $22 a barrel, closer to the $48 range. When lawmakers returned for the 2016 session, oil prices hit mid-$20.

Only recently did oil first touch $80 a barrel during Walker's term, in June 2018, one month after the Legislature adjourned in Walker’s final year.

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