Frontiers 161: Gov. Bill Walker’s Grand Experiment
We followed the final days of Gov. Bill Walker’s administration, as it wrapped up its operations in Juneau. He invited us into his office for a final interview, and we were present for one of the last cabinet meetings.
We also sat down with Gov. Walker and First Lady Donna Walker at the Governor’s House. They had a fire crackling when we arrived. A portrait of William Henry Seward hangs above the fireplace – in the backdrop, as the Walkers looked back on the past four years.
Bill Walker seemed very much at peace with the transition – more open and less guarded than I’ve seen him in years. At times Donna Walker’s eyes were moist, as she shared how she felt about her husband’s decision to end his campaign.
Walker says he wonders what his next move will be – that a governor accumulates so much knowledge and expertise. So now, the next step will be the figure out how to put his experience to good use.
Our conversations focused on what the governor thought his legacy would be. Here are some of the highlights of this week’s show.
- Rainy day governor: Bill Walker came into office with high hopes of building a natural gas pipeline --but when the price of oil crashed, he had to focus on rebuilding the state’s finances. Walker looks back on his decision to trim Permanent Fund Earnings to close the state’s multi-billion dollar budget gap. Did it cost him his re-election? Would he do it again?
- The grand experiment: In the beginning, Bill Walker and his lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, made one of the most unorthodox teams Alaska has ever seen – a Republican and a Democrat, a bipartisan ticket that morphed into a bipartisan administration – with a cabinet made up of commissioners of various political stripes. A look at why Walker believes the bipartisan make up of his crew made a difference.
- Political analysis: We invited Tim Bradner to reflect on what the Walker legacy might be. He and his brother, Mike, publish the Alaska Legislative Digest and have followed a number of administrations.
When I asked Gov. Walker to stand at the photo gallery outside the governor’s office and consider the portraits of past governors, he remarked how Alaska is a state with so many variables compared to other states – and how hard it is to predict what will happen in office.
And then on Friday, those words rang true, when a Magnitude 7 earthquake struck, and Walker spent his last few days in office focused on disaster response –and he found himself at a news conference comparing that earthquake to the one his family survived in 1964.
And now it’s Gov. Mike Dunleavy's turn to steer the ship of state. He takes office at a time when he expected to focus on the state budget and shape his new administration. But ready or not, he must hit the ground running to deal with the fallout from the earthquake, which will likely turn out to be one of the major challenges of his administration.
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