OPINION: In the race to be Alaska’s governor, Walker stands tall

By Representative Tiffany Zulkosky

Anchorage Daily News, August 26, 2022

As someone who’s passionate about serving Alaska, but loathes the divisiveness that accompanies campaign season, I rarely endorse candidates. But this year’s race for governor is so important that I feel I owe it to my district and state to encourage Alaskans to support Bill Walker and Heidi Drygas in the November election.

Holding elected office is a profound honor and enormous responsibility. As a legislator from a remote and under-resourced district the size of many Lower 48 states, I’ve seen firsthand that cutting and eliminating state services many on the road system may take for granted, are felt acutely across rural Alaska. If the state underfunds the Village Public Safety Officer program or mismanages state trooper allocations, rural communities go without any law enforcement. Cutting spending on education might mean urban schools don’t get new computers, but rural schools can’t keep the lights on. If the state eliminates Power Cost Equalization, rural Alaskans freeze or are left in the dark. I often tell my legislative colleagues that if urban Alaska gets a cough from the failure of government, rural Alaska gets a cold.

Alaska’s governor is granted enormous power, with the ability to make decisions that touch all our lives — from the roads we drive on to the management of fish in our rivers. Gov. Mike Dunleavy abused that power by making provocative campaign promises based on fiscal fantasy, forcing nonpartisan state workers to sign loyalty pledges, and hiring an out-of-state budget director who treated the destruction of essential programs as an intellectual exercise. Now, he is signaling a willingness to tear up Alaska’s constitution, putting women’s reproductive rights at risk. Dunleavy’s approach to the most impactful job in state government has been chaotic and reckless. The first rule for an elected official should be, “do no harm.” By that test, Dunleavy comes up short.

Conversely, the benefits of Gov. Bill Walker’s leadership are still being felt across Alaska, from Metlakatla to Utqiaġvik. During his time in the governor’s office, Walker used executive action to expand Medicaid, bringing health care access to 70,000 Alaskans, the majority of whom work full-time jobs in our largest cities. Despite his personally held beliefs, he will defend the state constitution, and will protect the right to privacy when Alaska women seek reproductive care. He created the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact, empowering tribes as partners on child welfare issues. He fought to stabilize state finances, providing certainty to municipalities, businesses and families, while paying out the largest Permanent Fund dividend the state could afford without jeopardizing Alaska’s future.

Character is choosing to do the right thing. Leadership is doing what’s right — not despite the fact that it’s hard, but because it’s hard. On both counts, Gov. Walker stands tall.

As political rhetoric heats up and campaigns polarize voters on their vision for Alaska’s future, I am reminded of a well-known analogy: Voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transportation. When we elect our state’s leaders, we’re not waiting for “the perfect one” to come along and sweep us off our feet, we’re catching the bus. And if there isn’t a bus to your exact destination, you don’t scrap your plans to travel and walk away. You take the bus that gets you closest to where you want to go.

I don’t agree with Gov. Walker on everything. But I trust him to protect the essential programs that hold our communities together, I respect his willingness to work across the aisle to get things done, and I believe that Alaska will be a better state with a brighter future with him as governor. I am excited to support Bill Walker for governor and Heidi Drygas for lieutenant governor. I’m going to rank them first in November’s ranked-choice election, and I hope you will join me.

Tiffany Zulkosky represents the lower Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in the Alaska State Legislature, a position she has held since 2018.