Nation's Only Independent Governor Offers Few Details in State of the State

Gov. Bill Walker on Wednesday used his first State of the State address to put a positive, up-by-your-bootstraps spin on Alaska’s tough fiscal predicament, though he offered Alaskans few concrete details on the steps he’ll take to reach the goals outlined in his speech.

Gov. Bill Walker on Wednesday used his first State of the State address to put a positive, up-by-your-bootstraps spin on Alaska’s tough fiscal predicament, though he offered Alaskans few concrete details on the steps he’ll take to reach the goals outlined in his speech.

MORE: Text, highlights and video of every governor's annual address.

 

In a 40-minute address to members of the Legislature and to a statewide television and radio audience, Walker said he’d appoint a special investigator on Thursday to examine the Alaska National Guard scandal, and said he’d already taken steps to give tens of thousands of Alaskans health care coverage by expanding the Medicaid insurance program.

 

He promised -- twice -- to build a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope, and said he’d try to insulate the state’s education system from cuts. He said he’d work to combat the state’s high rates of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, and touted Alaska’s fisheries and mining deposits.

 

But the particulars were limited, leaving some viewers anxious to see what Walker would say when he gives another speech on the state budget Thursday.

 

“I keep on liking his message, that we needed to be more cooperative and working together no matter what side you’re on,” said Victor Joseph, the president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, an Interior tribal organization. But, he added: “I'm really wondering how this is going to tie into the State of the Budget address tomorrow night.”

 

As legislators sipped coffee and scrawled on notepads, Walker, wearing a crisp white shirt and red tie under his jacket, urged more value-added manufacturing for Alaska, and said the state’s resources, such as oil and natural gas, should be used here.

 

He also renewed calls for Alaskans to get low-cost energy, calling that the foundation of a strong economy, and said the state should reduce energy costs at state-owned and public buildings and boost energy efficiency.

 

He gave a nod to one local company, Juneau-based Alaskan Brewing, as an example of a value-added product that’s produced with efficient technology. He didn’t say how, exactly, those principles could be promoted around the state, but Polly Carr, the executive director of the Alaska Center for the Environment, still said she was “excited” to hear Walker discuss energy efficiency.

 

“Investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy are important to our state's fiscal future,” she said. “And efficiency can save Alaskans.”

 

Walker also said he would fight Alaska’s “epidemic” of sexual violence, and continued to support Medicaid expansion in Alaska, which he said would add 4,000 health care jobs to Alaska's economy.

 

That position drew praise from Kevin McGee, the first vice president of the NAACP’s Anchorage branch, which has advocated for Medicaid expansion.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.