When Western Alaskans go to the polls today, Nov. 8, they’ll be casting their votes for the next governor of Alaska. Bill Walker and Heidi Drygas are running as the non-partisan candidates challenging Les Gara, the Democratic candidate, and incumbent Mike Dunleavy.
Walker’s biggest priority for Alaska is to reduce energy costs throughout the state, and specifically in rural Alaska.
“Almost all our revenue in the state comes from rural Alaska. The oil and gas, commercial fishing and mining. And yet we have sort of turned a blind eye to the needs of rural Alaska. We need to change that,” Walker said.
He suggested changing the way oil production is set up to bring in more money to the state while lowering the prices Alaskans pay at the gas pumps.
Walker served as governor of Alaska 2014-2018 as an Independent. During that time his administration, signed the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact, the first of its kind.
They want to do more tribal compacting to benefit education and also public safety within Western Alaska, through the Village Public Safety Program, Walker said.
“I would look seriously at separating it from the Department of Public Safety. And I would really like to have that program compacting with tribes for that. We look at the compacting that we did with child welfare, and it was going very well when I was in office and so we need to learn from that,” Walker said.
Walker also pointed to more training and funding for VPSOs. But in order to retain law enforcement officers in rural Alaska, as well as teachers, there needs to be more affordable housing options. One of Walker’s solutions to the lack of housing and the high cost of housing in Western Alaska is to set up a statewide land trust.
“Alaska does not have a land trust, we need a land trust. Only three states don’t have a land trust. Sitka has one and they are able to provide a home because you aren’t paying for the land, or the utilities, you’re just paying for the house itself. When you take the cost of the land and utilities out, suddenly the cost of housing comes way, way down,” Walker said.
The housing crisis in the Bering Strait region, where an estimated 37% of homes are considered overcrowded, is not unique to this area.
Similarly, the loss of subsistence resources this summer was not only felt in Western Alaska, but across rural parts of the state. In order to protect salmon for subsistence users, Walker and Drygas highlighted the need for more consultation with tribes, addressing bycatch in the state, and fully funding the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“We need to make sure we have good science that informs us and research to find out what is going on with our salmon stocks. This is an absolute crisis for our state, for our rural communities and I think that the Department of Fish & Game has been operating with one hand tied behind its back, with cuts to positions,” Walker said.
As this election features ranked choice voting, there are several paths to victory for all candidates. Walker and Drygas encourage voters to rank them first and Les Gara and Jessica Cook second in order to unseat current governor, Mike Dunleavy.
Dunleavy’s campaign office did not respond to KNOM’s request for an interview before Election Day.
Polls are open in Nome at Old St. Joe’s until 8 p.m. tonight, Nov. 8.
Image at top: Elections in Nome take place at Old St. Joe’s. Photo from KNOM file.