Alaska politics got a lot more complicated Friday. And the Democrats, Republicans, and independents are all looking for the Native vote.
This is Trahant Reports.
Former Alaska Sen. Mark Begich jumped into the race for the governor of Alaska Friday. That means there will be a three-way contest this fall with a Democrat and a Republican, challenging Independent Gov. Bill Walker.
Begich picked as his running mate Debra Call, Dena’ina, a member of the Knik Tribal Council. She is the seventh Native American to run for the office of lieutenant governor and will compete with Alaska’s current office holder, Byron Mallott. Mallott, Tlingit, is also a Democrat. Alaska now has three Native candidates running for Lt. Gov., including Edgar Blatchford, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Begich’s entry into the race will make a complicated November. A three-way race means it’s unlikely that any candidate will receive support from a majority of the state’s voters. Four years ago, Mallott was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor but he stepped down from that call in order to run with Walker on a fusion ticket. The Walker-Mallott ticket then narrowly defeated the incumbent governor Sean Parnell by a little more than 2 percentage points.
A court ruled earlier this year that Walker could seek the Democratic nomination as an independent, but Begich’s entry into the campaign puts and end to that idea. Walker and Mallott will go straight to the November ballots as independents, provided that they get enough signatures from voters to qualify. Walker told the Associated Press that he has no interest in a destructive primary.
Walker told the Anchorage Daily News that independent voters are the majority. Four years ago he said he was the little-known candidate who defeated the incumbent. “Now I’m sitting here as an incumbent,” Walker said. “We climbed that mountain before, and I’m comfortable with where we are.”
Mark Begich served in the U.S. Senate until he was defeated by Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2014. He has also been the mayor of Anchorage and is the son of the late U.S. Rep. Nick Begich Sr., who disappeared during a campaign flight in 1972.
Debra Call has been an Alaska Native leader in many capacities. She has been president of the Knik Tribal Council, with a membership in the Matanuska-Susitna area of over 4,000. She was also president and CEO of the Calista Heritage Foundation and is the former vice president of operations/HR at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Call has an MBA from Washington State University.
Edgar Blatchford also filed for the office on Friday — so there are now three Democrats running for that office. (Mallott, even though he is running on an independent ticket, remains a Democrat.)
This is an extraordinary year for Native Americans and the office of Lt. Governor. Minnesota, like Alaska, has three candidates. And another candidate in Oklahoma brings the number to seven.
What an extraordinary year. I am Mark Trahant.