File - In this Aug. 20, 2018 file photo, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, left, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott sign forms at the Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska after the two men submitted signatures to get their ticket on the November general election ballot. The governor of Alaska says Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has resigned over unspecified "inappropriate comments." The move upends what was already a difficult re-election fight for Gov. Bill Walker. Mallott's decision was announced Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, shortly after Walker participated in a debate in Anchorage. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

Lt. governor's resignation sparks doubt in Alaska politics

October 17, 2018 - 6:12 pm

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Some supporters of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker struggled Wednesday to understand the abrupt resignation of Walker's lieutenant governor and what that means for his re-election hopes.

Byron Mallott resigned Tuesday after what Walker, an independent, described as an "inappropriate overture to a woman," Walker spokesman Austin Baird said.

Walker campaign manager John-Henry Heckendorn said "as of today, the campaign is moving forward," with new Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson as Walker's running mate. But he acknowledged the campaign was communicating with Walker's Democratic rival, Mark Begich.

Heckendorn declined to characterize the talks but has said they were prompted by concerns about the dynamics of a three-way race. Some Democrats and independents have worried Walker and Begich would split the vote, giving the race to Republican Mike Dunleavy.

Begich's campaign manager did not return messages.

Mallott, in his resignation letter, apologized. He has not returned a phone message. A huge "Walker Mallott" campaign sign still stood outside his house in Juneau.

State Rep. Jason Grenn, an Anchorage independent and Walker supporter, said with early voting starting Monday, Alaskans want to hear from Walker on his plans.

"Everything in politics is timing," he said. The next few days "will be extremely critical for a lot of people on both sides to kind of see where the path to victory lies, if there is one still, for Gov. Walker."

Mallott's sudden departure was a blow to a ticket that grew out of political necessity in 2014. Walker and Mallott, who were both running for governor in 2014, decided their best shot at defeating Republican Gov. Sean Parnell was to join forces.

As part of that arrangement, backed by state Democrats, Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared, and Mallott, an Alaska Native leader and Democrat, ran for lieutenant governor.

This year, after the state Democratic Party changed its rules to let independents run in its primaries, Walker flirted with that option, but backed out when it appeared Begich would run. Walker instead gathered signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot, ensuring he could run with Mallott.

Dunleavy, in a statement, said his campaign "remains focused on restoring trust in state government."

Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat and former legislator, supported Walker and Mallott. She called the situation shocking and sad but praised Davidson as a "tremendous leader." She said uncertainty remains about what may happen next.

Before Tuesday's resignation, Stephen Gasche, a Juneau independent, was leaning toward Walker. On Wednesday, he said he was still undecided but leaning toward Begich. "This is why I don't vote early," he said via Facebook messenger.

Begich told Ketchikan public radio station KRBD that combining his campaign with Walker's was unlikely. But he said the dynamics of the race have shifted. "The question now, really, is the viability of campaigns," he said. "We've always believed we have a strong campaign."

Walker said it's too late for Mallott's name to be removed from the ballot. Heckendorn said if Walker wins, Davidson would be his lieutenant governor.

The Division of Elections said if Walker wins, Mallott technically would be re-elected. But given Mallott's resignation, Walker could able name a replacement.