ANCHORAGE—As if things can’t get any more bizarre in the final days of the Alaska’s race for governor, independent Gov. Bill Walker revealed at a candidate forum today that “the Republican party” tried to get him in the Republican primary after Republican Mike Dunleavy had already filed to run in the race.
The comment came during a back-and-forth between Republican Mike Dunleavy and Mark Begich during the Resource Development Council’s forum over claims that Begich and Walker may be considering a shake-up to avoid splitting the anti-Dunleavy vote.
“Well, I gotta tell you that the Republican party contacted me sometime ago and asked me to be their candidate. It was after you filed,” Walker, a former Republican, said to Dunleavy. “There’s all sorts of conversations that were going on out there.”
After the forum, Walker offered some additional information on the offer. He said the deal would have required him to ditch now-resigned Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a Democrat, in order to garner the group’s support. Walker ditched his Republican label in 2014 in order to join his ticket with Mallott.
“They asked me to get rid of Byron Mallott and run as a Republican but, you know what, I won’t do it that way,” he said. “They said they would support me and all that stuff. … I said ‘no’ and rejected that proposal. I like being an independent governor.”
Though he said “Republican party” during the forum, he declined to name names afterward and said only that someone had approached a person on his team. When asked if it was Chief of Staff Scott Kendall, Walker laughed.
There had been a lot of talk about GOP establishment dissatisfaction with Dunleavy’s far-right candidacy, particularly from the pro-business crowd concerned with deep cuts to state government. We had heard talk among many Republicans that Walker’s generally conservative administration had grown to be generally acceptable (the governor, after all, proposed a very conservative wage tax), particularly when compared to an administration run by Democrat Mark Begich. Those interests eventually coalesced around former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who entered on the final day of filings and finished a distant second to Dunleavy.
Walker laughed about the offer, telling reporters that he never seriously considered it. He said he preferred maintaining his brand as an independent.
“I ride for the AK brand, not an R or a D. That’s what I’m going to do. For me, it’s not a matter of hanging on another four years at any cost,” he said. “I gotta be the same person walking out as I walked in.”
As for the potential for Walker, whose chances of winning re-election likely tanked with the shocking resignation of Mallott earlier this week, of dropping out to support Begich, Walker downplayed the rumors. He said he’s still watching for what’s best for Alaska and is still running, for now.
Begich, in his response to Dunleavy’s question, acknowledged that the two had discussed what’s best for the state, but not recently. He said there’s “No deal,” but did take a jab at Dunleavy.
“As we’re here and having conversations with you, I’d like you to drop out,” he said to laughs from the audience.
“You know, there’s always opportunities to have conversations about what’s best for Alaska,” he said. “I’ve supported Democrats, Republicans and independents because I want to get the right people elected to office to make sure we do the right thing for Alaska.”
It was after that exchange that Walker jumped in with his revelation.
“I was fired up,” Walker said afterward. “You wanna open that door? I’ll open that. That was interesting.
“I probably wouldn’t have brought it up, but he was talking about us getting together and should know the rest of the story,” Walker said with a laugh “He probably doesn’t know that.”
Dunleavy didn’t respond to the comments during the forum and left quickly after it was over.