Former Gov. Bill Walker, seen here in 2016, filed to run for governor once again in 2022, picking former Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Heidi Drygas to run for lieutenant governor. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file)

Former Gov. Walker files to run again as an independent

Walker, Drygas say collaboration’s the way forward

Former Gov. Bill Walker announced Tuesday he was running to unseat Gov. Mike Dunleavy in the 2022 gubernatorial election alongside running mate Heidi Drygas, a former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

In a phone interview with the Empire Monday, Walker and Drygas said they wanted to work to rebuild Alaskan’s trust in government and would take a more collaborative approach.

“It’s the way we approach problems,” Walker said of what differentiates him from Dunleavy. “We reached out to Alaskans. We didn’t bring folks from outside of Alaska to make budget cuts that actually hurt Alaska.”

Walker served as governor from 2014-2018 and it was under his administration the current debate over the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend began. Oil revenues declined steeply in 2015 and in response the Walker administration deviated from the statutory formula the state had previously used to allocate the size of the PFD. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, filed a lawsuit against the state for that decision, but the state Supreme Court ruled the dividend was an appropriation and the Legislature was not bound by the statutory formula.

Walker said he hated making the decision to cut the PFD, but that it was necessary to protect the long-term health of the Alaska Permanent Fund.

[Lawmakers, governor spar over direction of special session]

“I chose leadership over legacy. I ran for governor to do the job, not to keep the job,” Walker said. “I hated what I had to do. I felt badly that we had to make that decision. The Permanent Fund became the significant funding source, that was at risk and we needed to protect that.”

Drygas and Walker emphasized a collaborative approach to governing and the campaign’s slogan is “Restoring trust, rebuilding Alaska.”

“We seem to be living in a dark period of Alaska history,” Drygas said. “Our sense is that Alaskans have lost a lot of faith and confidence and trust in their government. Alaska holds so much promise and those opportunities are being squandered through hardline decision making without collaboration.”

Walker, a former Republican-turned-independent, dropped out of the 2018 campaign for governor and endorsed Democratic candidate Mark Begich. During the 2018 campaign, Walker’s Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct. It was later reported Mallot made unwanted advances to a woman at a hotel in Anchorage.

Both Walker and Drygas are running as nonpartisans, which Walker said was better suited to his personal style.

“It’s a better fit for who I am,” he said. “Our cabinet was very nonpartisan. It’s a better fit because solutions are more easily obtained when we don’t get tangled up in politics.”

Dunleavy confirmed last week he was running for reelection las week, as will the current Lt. Governor, Kevin Meyer. The governor’s office is not allowed to interact with the governor’s political campaign, but Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner told the Empire Tuesday he was unaware if a campaign group had yet been formed.

Drygas, a Juneau resident, said she was honored to be chosen by Walker as she had always admired his leadership style.

“He cares about all Alaskans from CEOs to folks that are working in hospitality,” Drygas said. “He has a very collaborative approach to decision-making and policy-making. That is how Bill Walker leads, and that’s how I anticipate how we would lead.”

The state needs to find a long-term fiscal solution, and Walker said he hoped his administration would be that solution. A legislative working group released recommendations Monday and Walker said he would watch how the recommendations evolve over the next year. But Walker emphasized the need to strengthen the state’s institutions like education, the University of Alaska system and the Alaska Marine Highway System.

“We need to make sure that generation after generation has the same benefit that we have had,” Walker said.

Another potential candidate

Former Anchorage state Rep. Les Gara announced in July he was forming an exploratory committee to research running for governor as a Democrat. In a text message Tuesday, Gara said the feedback from the committee had been positive and he was leaning strongly toward running but was still listening.

“My wife Kelly and I feel I should run if that’s what gives Alaskans the best chance to recover from the damage Gov. Dunleavy has done,” Gara said. “He’s killed 6,000 jobs by leaving our construction budget in shambles, and badly damaged schools, the Alaska Marine Highway and the things that give people who aren’t born wealthy a chance to succeed.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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