Alaska in Brief
Q&A with 2022 Alaska governor candidate Bill Walker
Bill Walker, independent candidate for Alaska governor, talks with a voter alongside his lieutenant governor candidate, Heidi Drygas, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
The Alaska Beacon asked Alaska’s 10 governor candidates to answer a 15-question survey about their positions on a variety of issues. Read all of their responses here. Answers have not been edited.
Bill Walker, nonpartisan candidate from Valdez
Do you support a constitutional convention?
Should the Alaska Constitution be amended to protect the roughly $30 billion in the Permanent Fund that currently isn’t constitutionally protected?
Should Alaska spend public money to ensure a natural gas pipeline is built?
Do you think the state prioritizes commercial and sport fishing over subsistence fishing?
Would you allow a bill limiting transgender athletes to become law with or without your signature?
How should the state of Alaska set the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend each year?
A governor does not have a checkbook, the legislature does, and it is very misleading for a governor to guarantee any PFD amount without the support of the legislature. For more than eight years, the legislature has been high centered over the amount of the Dividend. We commit to provide real leadership, and work with the Legislature to update the 40-year-old formula for a predictable amount that Alaskans can rely upon long into the future. Our position is that the PFD should be predictable and the highest we can afford but not at the expense of future generations receiving a PFD, high taxes, or weakened government services such as education and public safety.
What’s Alaska’s biggest need, and how would you address it?
Alaska’s biggest need is leadership with a vision for its economy and its future – and that takes real leadership. Right now, Alaska is like a rudderless ship bouncing off the rocks with no captain taking the helm. We need to rebuild trust, enact a fiscal plan, resolve the PFD formula and grow the Permanent Fund. A stable, balanced budget, with reasonable PFDs, affordable housing, childcare and low cost energy sets the stage for economic development. Too many Alaskans are leaving the state because they can’t see an economic future for themselves or their families. This must be corrected, and we’ve got to get our economy growing again. Too many businesses are leaving the state, or deciding not to invest here, because the economy is weak and energy prices are too high. We must stabilize our budget, invest in education, lower the cost of energy, and rebuild our infrastructure to get our economy growing once again.
What policies and laws should Alaska follow with regard to abortion?
Alaska’s Constitution is clear: the constitutional right to privacy protects a woman’s right to choose in our state. That constitutional right will continue to be protected in our administration, and we oppose a constitutional convention. Our administration will veto any legislation that violates this and any other right or runs afoul of constitutional protections.
How should the state reduce the threat of gun violence and mass shootings?
Many Alaskans remember one of the country’s first mass shootings in Bethel. Most of us remember where we were when we heard the terrible news of the lives lost that day. Gun violence is tragic, and often preventable. We strongly support the Second Amendment and are both gun owners ourselves. Alaskans, however, also understand the importance of responsible gun ownership. With the increasing discussion of red-flag laws that work to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill, dangerous, or unfit individuals we think Alaska can both defend our right to bear arms while working to prevent gun violence and mass shootings here in Alaska.
How much should a governor’s faith or religion determine state law and policy?
Everyone is guided by a set of internal moral principles. For some, including Bill, those principles are rooted in religious beliefs. An individual’s religion or faith, however, should have no bearing on state law and policy. The separation of church and state is an American principle older than the republic itself and remains a cornerstone of a sound democracy.
What should the state do to improve retention of public employees, including teachers?
A recent report found that nearly 1 in 5 state jobs is vacant, and many state agencies are struggling to fill open positions. Retention of state workers is as challenging as recruitment largely because retirement benefits are weaker than the rest of the country. Making matters worse, teachers in Alaska are at a unique disadvantage because they do not receive social security benefits. Lack of a strong retirement system is a driving force in Alaska’s teacher crisis which was highlighted in another report that showed widespread teacher hiring problems across Alaska. We must reform the state retirement system as a top priority.
What does an ideal state ferry system look like?
We believe an ideal ferry system is, first and foremost, fully funded. This means a ferry system that is reliable, predictable, and fully staffed. It’s reliable, because we keep up with maintenance and replace old boats; it’s predictable, because we maintain a stable schedule that coastal communities can rely upon; and it’s fully staffed because we attract, train, and retain the best home-grown Alaska mariners. It also means we attract visitors from around the world to ride our blue canoes, with gift shops, live music, and naturalists aboard. We have always believed that a certain amount of state funding is required to maintain and operate the system, in much the same way state funding is required to maintain and operate surface roads and highways around the state. An ideal state ferry system would be one that reaches every coastal community in Alaska and allows for the coastal communities in our state to grow economically. Easy, reliable, affordable transportation in and around our coastal communities is a missing cornerstone of Alaska’s economic growth and must be restored.
What, if any, changes does the state need to make to ensure voting is equitable and secure?
The State of Alaska has an incredibly secure voting system that helps ensure every vote is both protected and counted; this work happens with the help of the cybersecurity team at the US Department of Homeland Security.
We commit to increasing equity in voter access for rural Alaskans by continuing to remove language barriers where they exist and ensure voter precincts are sufficiently staffed, and we will continue to expand opportunities for vote-by-mail to ensure more Alaskans can vote. We commit to updating the vote-by-mail process to ensure as few ballots as possible are rejected.
What do you intend to do about the poor returns of salmon in the Yukon and Kuskokwim drainages, and what are the main causes of the problems?
No administration can wave a wand and bring fish back. However, there are things within our control. As outlined in our previous statements, on day one of a Walker Drygas administration we will take swift actions to protect and invest in our fisheries. In Western Alaska, we must first acknowledge the impacts of salmon bycatch and climate change, then appoint officials well-versed in the science to begin the necessary work to address the problems. Additionally, the State of Alaska must commit significant new research dollars to salmon science, particularly in the AYK region, while also working to secure more federal funds from programs like the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund and better using the dollars already flowing in from DC. A Walker Drygas administration will invest time and effort to build positive working relationships with indigenous fishery organizations, like the Kuskokwim and Yukon Intertribal Fish Commissions (KRITFC & YRITFC) and support clear-eyed, honest, and unbiased discussion of both the impacts AND inequities of salmon bycatch in the BSAI fisheries.
What, if any, changes should be made to Alaska’s school funding system?
We need an education endowment for pre-K through the university. Years of zero or low increases in the Base Student Allocation means our schools are, by some reports, the eighth worst in the nation.
Unfortunately, years of flat funding and modest increases for K-12 education have fallen far behind the high rates of inflation Alaska is experiencing right now, effectively creating a silent cut to education. The Walker Drygas Administration will support increases to the Base Student Allocation, the system that determines how much money schools receive for every student enrolled.
Alaska’s children deserve the best schools in the country, whether they live in a rural village or a large city. That will only happen if our education system receives reliable, predictable funding.
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