The annual Golden Days celebration in Fairbanks brought plenty of politicians to the Golden Heart City over the weekend for a parade and plenty of fundraisers. That included Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who met with your humble Midnight Sun editor on a bench at Veterans Memorial Park to catch up on the race as kids from the local Boys and Girls Club played flag football behind us.
TMS: So how’s the campaign going?
Mallott: Well this is the first time for both Gov. Walker and myself to be incumbents so in many ways the pace of the campaign thus far is determined by the work we do every day and trying to fit in campaign events during our off hours and weekends. It certainly takes care of your summer weekends.
We’ve been concentrating–as all campaigns do–on fundraising early and attending events. Fourth of July in Juneau (for me) and the governor was in Seward. We try hard to be together when it makes sense to be together, but then also to visit different places across the state. The campaign, in terms of media, really hasn’t heated up yet as everyone can tell, and it will continue to become more and more intense as we move on.
TMS: From your perspective, how has the race changed with the entrance of Mark Begich?
Mallott: We, in my judgement, have maintained the strong core and the significant majority of the Democratic party’s support and the independent support that we were able to end the campaign with in 2014.
Certainly Begich will make some inroads, but he started late and is going into a space that we have occupied for four full years. We are the incumbents and we’re working as hard as we can and we focus on the issues that we believe Alaska cares about, and the campaign and candidates will take care of themselves.
TMS: Recently, the Dunleavy campaign came under fire for using footage of an Alaska Native woman in its advertising without her permission. While some dismissed it as no big deal, she said it was tokenization of Alaska Natives. What’s your take on it?
Mallott: We live in a world where pretty much everything can be argued is in the public domain, but if an individual does not want his or her image to be associated with a particular campaign, then it seems to me that that’s an appropriate issue that a campaign has to deal with. We would certainly deal with, if it were brought to our attention.
I think for the Alaska Native community–and it’s large, but it’s not monolithic–and people of color and various ethnicities, Alaska overall has a history of both being open, as a society, but at the same time there are elements in our society that people of color, people without economic strength and the Native population has had a long history of discrimination and even dealing with outright racism.
Now that is changing, it has changed over time where Alaska’s today overall society can be viewed as open, as caring, but there are scars and there are still today examples, unfortunately, of racism and discrimination.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that people can be a bit sensitive to it, and for other people to say–as the Dunleavy campaign said–“we’re colorblind and color doesn’t matter,” well over time color does matter, it always has mattered. Race does matter, it always has mattered, and particularly in campaigns.
I wish we were a colorblind society, I truly do. One of my aspirations and I’ve lived my whole life to try to help us get to that place, because if our society is truly colorblind then everybody has equality and everybody has an equal chance. That has not been the case for minorities in Alaska for generations, and while there’s been huge progress made, it is not fully the case today.
TMS: What from your time in office that has helped bring equality? Are there things that you can point to that you’re particularly proud of?
Mallott: It isn’t all about race, it’s about government generally being responsive to the needs of Alaska’s citizens and Alaska’s residents. We’ve really worked hard to make sure that our cabinet reaches out affirmatively to every Alaskan, every Alaskan segment, every Alaskan region and every Alaskan community. It doesn’t matter, again, what your race or ethnicity or economic circumstance or social circumstance, it’s about government having the responsibility to be responsive to every citizen. We take that seriously and make conscious efforts in that regard.
The governor created the governor’s tribal advisory council because in the past decade at least, the state’s relationship with tribes in Alaska has been marked by a lot of litigation and a lot of not being able to work together. We’ve worked hard to ameliorate that and to create a positive working relationship. I don’t think there’s today a single active lawsuit between the state and an Alaska Native organization.
We’ve worked hard to reach out to people in our society who you might have a hint may not be fully engaged or have their voices heard.
It’s more than just race. It’s also for example dealing with the National Guard crisis in terms of ethics breaches there and bringing in the first female Adjutant General (Maj. Gen. Laurie Hummel) for our state.
It’s about hopefully doing your job in a way that engenders respect and trust because that’s absolutely necessary even to government to get the job done.
TMS: Former Gov. Sean Parnell recently endorsed Dunleavy over his former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. That seems pretty much the opposite of the kind of relationship that you have with Gov. Walker. You guys seem to be friends. How has that affected your time in office?
Mallott: Certainly it’s made my job a great job. The contrast for example, in the Anchorage office of the governor and lieutenant governor they are on the same corridor, but there was door and it was locked between the two offices. The lieutenant governor’s staff had to come around to the governor’s front desk and seek entry for whatever they were doing. Gov. Walker took one look at that door and said, “take it down.” …
We work very closely together, and he’s given me a lot of responsibility: Relations with Canada, transboundary rivers, climate change, commercial fisheries advisor. I do a lot of special work on his behalf. Lieutenant governor has to always remember that there’s only one governor, so your job is to advise and counsel. I would have not done what I did when I asked the Democratic Party to release me from my obligation in 2014 and to support our campaign. … I would not have done any of that if I did not have a deep respect for Gov. Walker.
TMS: That relationship made the 2014 race a two-way race, do you see a path to it becoming a two-way race this time around?
Mallott: I think it can be, but I believe fundamentally that the candidates have to believe that Alaska and its future is more important than them serving in a particular office. Those who reach this plateau of being able to run and be taken seriously as a statewide candidate typically have histories that prove their character and sense obligation to Alaska, not the obligation of Alaska to them.
I think it’s going to have to take some significant selflessness on the part of those that have to deal with that circumstance in a three-way race. Typically it’s not done, but in my case it was done because I believe that together Bill Walker and I could continue what we both believed in and was important for Alaska.
I think we’ll have the same circumstance this time around.
TMS: What are there issues that you think are important in this race that haven’t been talked about?
Mallott: For both parties, and it’s not been talked about much, is that in 2020 is the next census of our nation and it’s based upon that census that reapportionment takes place.
For both parties, it’s something of a holy grail because certainly partisanship plays into reapportionment because of the general circumstance of our nation, where partisanship and hard-edged ideology plays such a big part it creeps into reapportionment.
No one talks about it much, but it’s a big deal. You talk about a three-way race? That’s going to one of the decisions that candidates are going to have to make. Not in our instance, for example, where we want to create any kind of partisan reapportionment–we want it to be fair across the state. That’s going to be a big issue.
TMS: How do you make redistricting fair?
Mallott: I chaired the reapportionment board when Gov. Hammond selected it in 1980, so I’ve been there and I know how it works. During the last reapportionment in 2010, just as a citizen I wasn’t running for anything but had applied for the board and was denied.
If you look at Alaska’s reapportionment structure on paper and it looks very fair. The Senate president gets two people on the board, the House speaker gets two, the governor gets two and the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court gets one. (Note: The only person to get two appointees is the governor. Both the Senate president and House speaker get one apiece). If they’re all of the same party, that’s a big problem.
I don’t believe any political party in any scheme should have total control of the membership of the reapportionment board. That just makes it fundamentally unfair. I think any process should take that into account, Alaska’s doesn’t. … That’s something that has to be looked at.