Editor’s note: The Juneau Empire will feature Q&A segments with candidates in statewide races leading into the next election. The following interview with Bill Walker was held at the Empire’s office on Dec. 12. It has been edited for length.
Bill Walker got his start in politics lobbying elected officials across the nation to support an Alaska gas line. A few years later he was elected to the Valdez City Council. Walker became the city’s youngest mayor at the age of 27 in 1979, during Alaska’s golden era of oil production. Walker has served as the project manager and general counsel for the Alaska Gasline Port Authority for the last 14 years. He visited the Juneau Empire to discuss his position on issues important to Alaska.
Why are you getting into the race for governor?
I generally believe that we lack leadership in Alaska, we lack direction, we lack a vision of the long-term future. We seem to live from one budget cycle to the next, one election cycle to the next, and we don’t seem to have any long-term focus on where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.
Previously you had run as a Republican and earlier this year you declared that you would be running on the Republican ticket. Why did you decide to go Independent?
A couple of reasons — I am a Republican; I still am today. When I ran last time, Gov. Hickel encouraged me to run and he also encouraged me to run as a non-partisan and I chose not to follow his advice. ... We did a poll right after the primary and it showed that had that been the general on that particular day — and anybody could have voted for anybody — I was one point behind Parnell, so I noted that. I hoped that I didn’t have to run again. This is not a political itch that I have, it’s not a bucket list item. I’m not trying to launch a political career.
Explain your stance on Senate Bill 21.
My stance on SB 21 is that I would not have voted for it. I would not have supported it but what I will do is that when I’m on the ballot in the general election, I will follow the wishes of the voters, unlike some others. The voters will have decided on that issue in the primary and if the voters say it stays in place, it stays in place. If the voters say it goes away and we’re back to ACES, I will sit down and negotiate something different that will be an adjustment to ACES, but it will be something good for Alaska, too. The biggest thing missing from SB 21 is anything good for Alaskans in it. There’s no requirement for the oil companies to do anything, no requirements for them to drill, no requirement for them to spend any money in Alaska, so the $40 billion pushed across the table can be spent anywhere.
What do you think about the idea of the state having an equity stake in the LNG line?
The gas line that would come to the LNG terminal, we should not be a minority owner. We should be controlling interest. I wouldn’t be interested in spending five or 10 years negotiating ownership structure, because that’s how long it will take in some of these processes.
I would wish TransCanada all the best and a safe trip back to Canada. I would exit AGIA under the provision that allows us to exit it and I would get on with the future of the state of Alaska with us in the driver’s seat, rather than continuing pushing the keys across the table to those with competing projects elsewhere.
Education funding is going to be another big issue we’ll hear about in the next session, everything from charter schools to putting teachers on the State of Alaska’s health care insurance program. Explain your position on education funding issues.
Having been born here and raised here, and having all my education through high school here in Alaska, I have obviously a strong bias toward education. ... I think often we don’t have quite the right items on the menu, if you will, in our educational process. I’d like to blend in the career and technical side into the mainstream of our education.
We spent some time in Norway and their second largest export in Norway is the intellectual knowledge of oil and gas, and we should be doing that on Arctic policy and we should be doing that on Arctic research. We are America’s northern coast; we’re the Arctic of our nation. I know we do a lot of that at our university now, but I’d like to see that expanded and developed further. I’d also like to see our educational system designed to be able to move people into the industries that are available in Alaska. I’m very passionate about local hire. I’m a big supporter of education; I just think we need to adjust some of our opportunities to match some of the opportunities available to our students.
The governor has decided that the state will not accept the extra money from the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act. What would you have done differently?
I would have done an Alaska plan. We always talk about the federal overreach, but when we don’t do something then they overreach because we haven’t done something. Then we complain that they overreached, shame on us for taking that stance. The rule of thumb for me is if it’s good for Alaska, then we need to do it. The concern that the federal government may not continue to fund that into the future — you know, it’s interesting. The assurances that he wanted from the federal government and yet when he gave away $40 billion of our revenue to Exxon, BP and ConocoPhillips, he didn’t ask for any assurances. So when we receive something, we need assurances, but when we give something away we don’t. I think that’s absolutely backwards. If we reached a point in time when it wasn’t working for Alaska, then we would stop it. We have precedent of that in Alaska when other governors have come in and stopped (other programs). It’s something that we’re paying for and we’ll pay higher insurance rates as a result of it. I think it was a pure partisan move on his part with regard to what was best for the state.
As governor, how would you address Alaska’s high rates of sexual assault and domestic abuse? Would your approach focus more on funding or policy changes?
I think it’s both. I don’t think there’s any question that there has to be additional funding because you have to choose to fund, not just rely upon a slogan. You actually have to walk the talk on that. I think there’s more that can be done but it’s going to require funding. It’s not going to be that just because someone has a vision of something that it’s automatically going to change. There are things that can be done educationally, we can start (earlier) in the school system, you can provide certain services that aren’t available now, and if we don’t it only gets worse. We have the worst rates and statistics in the nation. Certainly we should acknowledge that and respond accordingly.
You did say though that you’re still a Republican, even though you’re running as an Independent. What is it in the Republican set of ideals that you identify with?
I think the social issues. I’m very conservative in that regard. That’s why I’m a Republican, but the social issues are not the platform that I’m running on. I’m running on economic development, fiscal stability, low-cost energy, jobs, education — those issues are what brought me into the race.
But those other issues you will have to address as governor.
Some, some won’t. I don’t plan to change the social landscape differently than what it is today. I’m not running to go and do that. There’s been Republican leadership in the governor’s office, the House and the Senate for the last several years and so we are where we are on social issues.
Would you say that your personal views would influence any decisions you might make on social issues, or would that fall more to the will of the people? You say that you’re running on more of a development platform, so would you take less of an active role in campaigning for a certain outcome on a social issue?
I’d have to address that on a case-by-case basis. It’s hard for me to project that going forward. I’m not aware of any coming up that would involve my role or not. I have been involved in others in the past.
One, for example, is the recently proposed rules that would more strictly define what a “medically necessary abortion” is. A lot of that discussion has been divided among social conservatives and social progressives. What would you add to that conversation?
I would have to look at that. I’m not a person who checks my faith at the door; I’ll put it that way. I am a Christian. My Christian values are important to me in my daily life and decisions. I certainly follow the Constitution and the case law that has been established, but I’m not going to step away from who I am. Again, that’s not the driving force that brings me to this point in my life in running for governor.
What’s your view on the relationship that Alaska should have with the federal government?
I think we have to have a respectful relationship and an aggressive respectful relationship. ... When we became a state, the statehood compact had certain assurances and promises and those promises haven’t really been fulfilled. I think we need to be more aggressive with the federal government on the statehood compact. I think we need to stand by local businesses and communities that are under attack, if you will, by the federal government. For example, the EPA is outlawing the ability to burn wood in Fairbanks. It’s a very high cost of energy in Fairbanks. I’m a big believer in the Tenth Amendment. I’m a states’ rights person and the Tenth Amendment basically says that the federal government can only do what it’s authorized to do under the Constitution, and it’s a sort of regulatory creep, if you will. I’m pretty aggressive when it comes to drawing the line with the federal government and our ability to develop our state.
Would you ever dip into the Permanent Fund to help balance the budget?
No. We’re the most energy-rich state in the nation and we’re dipping into the Permanent (Fund) Dividend? No, there’s something really wrong with that. I would not do that. That’s a return to Alaskans ... Our Constitution talks about maximizing the resources to the benefit of Alaskans and I don’t think we’re doing that now, but we need to do that. I would have no reason to dip into the Permanent Fund.