Alaska isn’t divided between red and blue, Republican and Democrat; it’s divided between Xtratufs and bunny boots.
The boundary between the two starts at the Canadian border in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and snakes west, north of McCarthy and Chitina, then follows the coastal range to the Anchorage bowl. It divides that city, then turns northwest, skimming the northern edges of the Kuskokwim before meeting the Bering Sea somewhere around Nome.
North of that line is bunny boot territory. South of it is the kingdom of the Xtratuf.
The lifestyles are different, as are the issues. A miner in Chicken sees Pebble Mine differently from a Ketchikan fisherman. A Wasilla wife goes to different stores than a Haines husband.
Trying to divide Alaska between Republicans and Democrats doesn’t work. According to the Alaska Division of Elections, more than 267,000 of the state’s 498,000 registered voters are either nonpartisan or undeclared. Republicans and Democrats combined represent just over 205,000 voters.
With those thoughts in mind, it shouldn’t be any surprise when we praise an action that promises better representation for the state’s nonpartisan and undeclared majority.
Early this month, we saw Bill Walker and Byron Mallott combine forces on a fusion candidacy between an independent and a Democrat. Mallott agreed to serve as lieutenant governor if elected, and Walker agreed to give up his personal Republican Party registration.
It’s too early for us to make an endorsement in this race — we’ll wait to see the platform of this new unity ticket — but we’re impressed by the spirit of compromise that seems to have emerged.
Compromise is the grease that makes government work — without it, you get the deadlocked U.S. Senate.
The idea of a unified administration, one with an independent governor and a Democratic lieutenant governor is attractive because it’s new and fresh, and if Americans are tired of the two-party system, new and fresh is what we need.
The national perception has always been that third-party candidates are a joke and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Alaska knows differently. In 1990, Wally Hickel and Jack Coghill did an end run around the political establishment with their Alaskan Independence Party ticket.
As promising as this new approach may be, it must be tested first. How will Walker and Mallott work out tough social issues like gay marriage and abortion rights? A key plank of their political platform is reducing spending: How will they cut the state’s budget?
Perhaps most importantly, we should ask if this unity ticket disenfranchises Democrats who supported Mallott for governor during the state primary. Democrats who voted for Mallott in the gubernatorial primary had their votes effectively erased by the creation of the unity ticket. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that Mallott will be in a position of authority if he is elected.
When Jack Coghill was elected lieutenant governor on the AIP ticket in 1990, he hoped to work with Hickel. Instead, the Hickel staff “treat(ed) me as if I’m the second janitor on the third floor,” he told a reporter later in the term.
As columnist Dermot Cole pointed out, former House Speaker Mike Bradner used to joke that all the lieutenant governor has to do is sit at his desk with his feet up, reading the newspaper. The only qualifications for the job were a good pair of shoes and a subscription to the Juneau Empire.
We don’t expect Democrats would be happy with that kind of role for their former gubernatorial candidate. Walker has promised a “nonpartisan” administration, but is neutral the best that Alaska Democrats can hope for?
The next month will bring a blizzard of campaigning, and the candidates will be out in force to spread their names and their ideas. The Juneau Empire will work hard to answer the unanswered questions and claims of the Walker-Mallott ticket as well as others this election season. The unity ticket promises change, but as we’ve seen since 2008, “change” makes a good political slogan — it doesn’t always create results.
The race between Gov. Sean Parnell and Bill Walker is one of the most interesting gubernatorial campaigns in decades, and though it may look strange, the ticket that wears one bunny boot and one Xtratuf could end up winning a sprint to November.
— Juneau Empire, Sept. 14