The 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platoon was assembled to defend Alaska during World War II. The members of this platoon gave themselves the name “Cutthroats” as a nod to the special freedoms the military granted them in their operations. Fisherman, trappers and hunters — these men were chosen because they had demonstrated an ability to survive and thrive in the harshest situations, to dig in amidst the heaviest storms. In times of peril, they could be counted on to run toward the fire.
Ed Walker was one of Castner’s Cutthroats. And his son, Bill Walker, must have learned a thing or two from him. Bill has been Alaskan since he was born, and since before Alaska was a state. When the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 wiped out his family’s business, Bill, 12 years old, earned a job as school janitor to make extra money for his family. He would go on to support his parents and siblings as a carpenter, teamster and laborer on the trans-Alaska Pipeline. Bill went on to work as an advocate for his home community, Valdez. He became the city’s youngest-ever mayor and later its lead attorney in high-stakes battles with the oil industry, taking Exxon all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning. At the pivotal moments in his family’s history and his state’s, Bill stepped up.
And then he became governor. There he has proven over and over again that when the going gets tough — Alaska-tough — Bill gets going. He came into office facing a criminal justice system that left whole swathes of rural Alaska unprotected, a healthcare system ill-suited for the state’s unique challenges, and a budget spiralling out of control. Our governor has dug into the most important issues: raising funding for prosecutors, investigators and 911 services in rural Alaska; expanding Medicaid to ensure healthcare for thousands of Alaskans; and rebuilding our finances to put Alaska back on a path to fiscal sustainability, restoring Alaska’s credit rating in the process. Now there is obviously still work to do. But the “Cutthroat” mentality that raised Bill was never about quick, easy answers that let you face the cameras with your boots clean.
Bill has certainly had plenty of critics in his first term. That’s what happens when you have the guts to make some “politically incorrect” decisions. I often wonder though, while Bill was in the trenches everyday fighting for our state, where were those critics?
Two of the staunchest naysayers are running against Bill for governor. Mike Dunleavy has levied plenty of complaints about the fiscal situation. However, in the Senate, he had a record of blocking practical budget solutions. Earlier this year the Senator quit his seat. Tellingly, he decided that facing the tough decisions before the Senate was not compatible with his gubernatorial ambitions.
There is also Mark Begich. His alignment with Bill’s scoffers has only come about recently … because the man just has not been around. While the state took on water and the governor and the Legislature faced a series of tough decisions, Mark was living out of state, working for one of the largest lobbying firms in the world. Largely unseen for three years, he came back only when he saw an opportunity for himself: a three-way race with no democratic challenger. With no regard for how his return weakens and divides the Democratic Party, he has careened into the race with a poll-driven, self-serving, populist message: Slash state spending even further, roll back criminal justice reform, pay record-sized dividends — with no math on how to make it all work.
We’ve all known folks who’ve come and gone from Alaska … living it up during the good times and skipping town when things get rough. Sticking around in the face of hardship means something to the longtime sourdoughs. We value most the friends we know will be there through the winter and out onto the other side. To me, it is clear that there is only one candidate in this race who embodies that essentially Alaskan value: one candidate who has run toward the fire, who has manned his post when others have fled. That man, Bill Walker, is who I will be voting for come November.
• Gil Stokes is a born-and-raised Alaskan, a Tlingit, and a U.S. Navy Korean War veteran.