JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell and independent candidate Bill Walker traded barbs during a televised debate late Sunday, one of the last debates remaining before the Nov. 4 election.
Walker sought to cast Parnell as slow to respond to allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct within the Alaska National Guard, a characterization that Parnell vigorously disputed.
Parnell, meanwhile, asked Walker what deal he cut with Democrats to have Bryon Mallott join Walker’s ticket. Walker said there was none.
The National Guard scandal has cast a shadow over the race, with Parnell facing criticism over his response. He has said he responded to every allegation brought to him, including following up with Guard leadership on the handling of claims and having his chief of staff take concerns to the FBI in 2010.
Parnell has said he went to the National Guard Bureau in February when he received “concrete examples” of how the command structure was failing Guard members. Findings of the bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations led to a shake-up in Guard leadership and recommendations that Parnell said he is implementing to help restore confidence in the Guard.
In the KTUU debate Sunday, Parnell said he has spent his career with a heart for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. He said he would never let a victim come to his office or have allegations come forward without moving to take action.
Walker said when oil companies complained about pipeline taxation, Parnell “acted immediately” by firing the chairman of the board that reviews the tax value the trans-Alaska pipeline. But he said it took four years after chaplains raised concerns with Parnell about misconduct within the Guard for him to fire the head of the National Guard. He asked why there was a disparity in timing for one versus the other.
An exasperated Parnell said it was time for Walker “to tell the truth.”
“The bottom line is, I acted immediately, and I want you to quit saying that I didn’t,” Parnell said, to applause from the crowd in Anchorage.
“Governor, you must understand, you’re not the victim here,” Walker responded.
Debate over a major gas pipeline project and state spending flared again. Walker took exception to Parnell saying Alaska is farther than it’s ever been in pursuing a long-hoped-for gas line project while Parnell saying that Walker, who has raised concerns with the current structure of the project, would kill the progress being made.
Walker said spending is out of control but Parnell said he’s been working to reduce it.
In past debates, Parnell blamed the bipartisan coalition that led the Senate for the first 3 ½ years of his tenure for spending their way past their differences and said he responded with large vetoes. On Sunday, he referred to the bipartisan coalition as the “unity” coalition, borrowing the word used to describe the bipartisan ticket of Walker and Mallott.
Parnell said when a “fiscally conservative” Legislature took over in 2013, spending was brought down. Republicans took control of the Senate after the 2012 elections, putting the GOP in charge of the House, Senate and governor’s office.
With billion-dollar deficits, Walker said more must be done, including making decisions about various projects. For example, he said the state doesn’t need studies on two competing gas line projects.
Mallott, who won the Democratic primary for governor, became Walker’s running mate as part of a “unity ticket” widely seen as providing a tougher challenge to Parnell.
Walker said there was no deal cut to merge the tickets but Parnell said the answer “doesn’t pass the smell test.” He said Walker’s positions on various issues have shifted.
Walker, who finished second to Parnell in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary, changed his party affiliation to undeclared as part of his latest bid.
He said he was sorry that Parnell couldn’t fathom him and Mallott agreeing to put party interests aside for the good of Alaska.