Whether or not you like Governor Bill Walker, he is a role model for both those who agree and disagree with his decisions. Let the record give him some credit. He was the governor we needed.
How did he come to be Governor? Walker made it into office by compromising with Democrats and running as a centrist by Alaskan standards. Initially, he was largely a one issue candidate running on the premise that he was the best equipped leader to develop a natural gas pipeline. I don’t agree with all of his decisions, but I respect how he maneuvered to gain the support of more Alaskans. I also liked being the only state with an Independent governor.
Walker supported Medicaid expansion from the get-go. Expansion of Medicaid was one of Obama’s campaign promises and thus a hot button issue, as well as another liability for a government that already has too many. Walker reasoned publicly that Medicaid expansion would provide critical medical coverage for a large portion of Alaska’s population that could not afford healthcare. The additional cost would not be born by the state for the first few years. Walker said that if it became fiscally untenable for the state in the future he would reevaluate, but that many Alaskans would gain access to medical services with Medicaid expansion and he was not going to deny coverage to Alaskans that would benefit. He was right to put the health of Alaskans first.
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Once elected, I was concerned that Walker had gasline mania. The guy definitely wants to build a gas line. I worried that he would risk a large portion of the state’s wealth by funding what might turn out to be an uneconomic gasline and a bungled state funded megaproject. The state’s record on investing in projects is mixed and its record investing in megaprojects is very bad (the existing pipeline was funded by private industry). I still think Walker might have gasline mania but he showed restraint and did not embark on a project that the market did not support. Perhaps he protected us against his own worst tendencies. What he has done to support the market developing a gasline seems reasonable to me, though I don’t have the industry knowledge to be sure. Whether or not a gas line will happen in our lifetime, too often we don’t pursue large goals that can change our lives and our state.
Then Walker vetoed the PFD. This was like handing a loaded gun to his political opponents. I can’t think of any political leaders who have won re-election recently without promising that we can have our cake, eat it too, and not gain weight. Walker is either principled, a loose unit, or both. Vetoing the PFD is politically suicidal on a level that I thought only Rob Ford, former mayor of Toronto, was capable of, but Walker did it. I see posts on social media about how Walker “stole” the PFD. These people are confused. The PFD was a victim of unsustainable spending by those who came before Walker and a resource driven economy with an even less diversified tax base. Walker is the guy who got stuck with the mess and dealt with it like an adult. Using the governor’s veto power to reduce the PFD was justified because the deficits that the state was running required emergency action. His courageous decision was the political catalyst for our elected representatives to compromise on a plan to use PFD earnings to fund government and essential services. Until he did this, we were politically paralyzed and running deficits of three billion dollars a year. Both candidates that remain in the race for governor are selling promises of a rosier world. They are doing this both because they are more willing to make promises that are unsustainable and because Walker made tough choices that will make it easier for our next leaders to govern.
Walker’s announcement to suspend his campaign is one more example of making a hard decision that is the right one. Governor Walker would probably win a heads up race against any of his opponents but he can’t win with all of them in the race. Backing out gives Alaskans a choice that we wouldn’t have had if he didn’t suspend his campaign.
Governor Walker, thank you for putting Alaska and Alaskans first. You deserve credit for the decisions you made and how you made them. Whether or not you get credit, know that Alaskans are better off for your contribution.