The Centrist Project is excited and honored to endorse Alaska Governor Bill Walker for reelection. As a Centrist Independent, Bill Walker embodies the change that we are trying to bring about in American politics.
Governor Walker is a pragmatic leader, willing to make hard decisions and eager to work with anyone—Republican, Democrat, or Independent—who is committed to serving the best long-term interests of Alaska.
The “lower 48” could learn a lot from what Governor Bill Walker has been doing in Alaska. Americans say they want leaders who are willing to take political risks—those who will do the right thing even if it is politically unpopular in the short run.
Let’s be honest. Political courage is in short supply these days. In Washington, the President and Congress are discussing a massive unfunded tax cut even as our national debt climbs to dangerously irresponsible levels. In Alaska, Bill Walker literally did the opposite.
When oil prices plummeted, state revenues plummeted, too, leaving the state with a huge deficit. One logical way to cut the deficit was to reduce the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, the sum paid annually from the state’s oil wealth annually to each Alaska resident. When the state is in a huge fiscal hole, one way to stop digging is to reduce the size of the checks mailed out to nearly every person in the state.
Not surprisingly, most politicians have been wary of messing with the dividend, which is sometimes described as the “third rail” of Alaska politics. Governor Walker likes to say that he did not just touch the third rail; he gave it a bear hug.
In 2016, Walker used his line-item veto to cut the dividend in half, saving the state nearly $700 million. That’s a hard decision, and Governor Walker did the responsible thing.
Americans say they want less partisanship. Bill Walker, who began his political career as a Republican, won the Alaska gubernatorial election in 2014 as an Independent. He joined forces on the ‘Alaska First Unity Ticket’ with his running mate and governing partner Byron Mallott, who was formerly a Democrat.
The two of them decided that they could accomplish more by running together than by running against one another. When was the last time that happened in Washington?
Independents like Governor Walker are able to put the interests of their constituents ahead of the interests of their party. They can adopt good ideas—and reject bad ones—regardless of what party or politician proposes them.
Americans say they are fed up with both parties. More than 40 percent of Americans now describe themselves as Independent. In Alaska, that number is higher still: More than 50 percent of Alaskans describe themselves as unaffiliated.
The best way to send a message to the two dysfunctional political parties is to stop electing them. If we don’t want political tribalism, then we should spend more time and resources working to elect politicians who are willing to stand apart from the political tribes. Like Bill Walker.
Independents are different. This is something I’ve learned in my years of work with the Centrist Project. They have the courage to buck the status quo. They have the luxury of governing for the benefit of all voters, not just “the base.” And they have a yearning to fix the system. Governor Bill Walker embodies all of these attributes.
I have been lucky enough to spend time with Governor Walker over the last six months. He is not only committed to helping Alaska; he is also committed to electing more centrist independents across the country.
We at the Centrist Project believe passionately that the most elegant way to repair our broken political system is by electing more centrist independents. Leaders like Governor Walker are free to take the best ideas from both parties. They can bring polarized voters together. They can tackle issues the two parties are afraid to touch.
Bill Walker is the right choice for Alaska. Reelecting him will also inspire other Centrist Independent candidates across the country. It will remind voters (and political reporters) everywhere that we should have more than two stale choices.
And it will be a huge step forward for the Centrist Project “fulcrum strategy”—our belief that we can empower the political center by electing the right people in the right races. Governor Bill Walker is how a powerful idea becomes reality.
Charles Wheelan is the founder & co-chair of the Centrist Project and author of the Centrist Manifesto.