A statement independent Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker made earlier in the month on an Anchorage radio show came back to bite him several times during a candidate forum Monday in Juneau.
Walker has made Alaska’s budget a focal point of his campaign, saying the state’s spending is causing a “fiscal crisis” — his website includes a counter that displays opponent Gov. Sean “Parnell’s 2014 Deficit Spending.”
The current administration’s $7 million-per-day spending is unsustainable, Walker said.
“In 10 years we’ll be in deficit spending,” he said during the debate. “That horrifies me.”
In early September, Walker said on KFQD’s The Dave Stieren Show that he would cut state spending by 16 percent across the board if elected, Parnell pointed out at Monday’s debate. Parnell asked Walker what exactly he would cut from the budget, stating that if state personnel was cut by 16 percent, it would disproportionately impact Juneau’s 3,500 state workers.
Walker did not answer with specifics, but said everything was on the table.
“We have to have a fiscal plan in this state,” he said.
Parnell later asked Walker if the 16 percent cut would apply to Medicaid and education funding.
Walker once again said, “We need to put everything on the table ... we need a fiscal plan.” He said Alaska can no longer rely on increasing oil prices to cushion its budget.
“I’m a fiscal conservative,” he said. “Yeah, I’m proud of my statements (about the budget) ... I know it’s uncomfortable for some to talk about, but I’ll continue to talk about it.”
“He always talks up the deficit, but doesn’t have a way to fix it,” Parnell said, noting how he cut spending by a billion dollars in both his fourth and fifth years in office. “I’ve had the plan to fix it, and it’s called ‘spend less.’”
Walker’s statement on the show and the state budget was a resounding theme during the debate. A back-and-forth between the two candidates on the budget began in their opening statements and continued until the end. The Juneau Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event was held at Suite 907, the club formerly known as Marlintini’s. Libertarian candidate Care Clift was scheduled to participate but missed her flight to Juneau. She will instead speak at Thursday’s chamber luncheon.
The pending liquefied natural gas line project was also a hot topic during Monday’s discussion. Parnell accused Walker of flip-flopping on several issues, including the LNG project. He said Walker “would kill” the project by being indecisive. Walker had called the project “fatally flawed” in the past, Parnell said, which, to the governor, suggested Walker would end the years of work on it.
Walker denounced Parnell’s claims, saying, “I’ll be the governor that actually finishes the project.” He said the “fatal flaw” he spoke of is that “we’re not in control” of the project and the state is letting competitors determine the outcome, rather than Alaskans.
Moderator and chamber President-elect Lance Stevens asked the candidates what role the lieutenant governor will play in decision making.
“I don’t know if that was a plant for me or not,” Walker joked as he stepped up to the podium to respond. Walker’s running mate is Byron Mallott, who had been the Democratic candidate for governor until the two merged campaigns in August to form a nonpartisan “unity” ticket.
“This’ll be a partnership ... we’ll work together,” Walker said. “(Mallott is) going to be a senior advisor to me. ... I’m very excited and very honored and very humbled to be running with Byron Mallott. ... We will have an incredible relationship.”
Parnell questioned Walker’s answer.
“You cannot have co-governors in this office,” he said. “Whose agenda controls? It comes down to the constitution. I have a lot of respect for (running mate) Mayor Dan Sullivan. ... My lieutenant governor will have an influential role, but ultimately, the constitution says the buck stops with the governor.”
During Walker’s next turn at the podium, he said he was “baffled” by the governor’s suggestion.
“I never said Byron would be the co-governor,” he said.
In closing, chamber President Max Mertz asked the candidates who they will be voting for in the heated U.S. Senate race. Whether incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) or Republican candidate Dan Sullivan wins the election could determine the Senate’s majority party.
“I’m voting for Dan Sullivan for U.S. Senate,” Parnell replied.
Walker sidestepped the question altogether.
“I’ve heard that question asked more creative ways, like what sign is going to be in my yard,” he said, adding that the only sign in his yard will read: Walker/Mallott. “That’s what I’ll say about that.”