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Resignation Shakes Up AK Gov. Race     10/17 06:41

   JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- In a stunning October surprise, Alaska's lieutenant 
governor resigned Tuesday for making unspecified "inappropriate comments," 
imperiling the re-election hopes of Gov. Bill Walker, a man with whom he shared 
a brother-like bond.

   Walker, who has been locked in a tough re-election fight with Democrat Mark 
Begich and Republican Mike Dunleavy, had already been in talks with Begich. The 
talks centered on a "path forward for Alaska" and stemmed from concerns about 
Dunleavy and the dynamics of a three-way race, Walker campaign manager 
John-Henry Heckendorn said. Begich's campaign manager did not immediately 
return a message.

   Walker described Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott's comments as an "inappropriate 
overture to a woman," Walker spokesman Austin Baird said.

   Mallott's sudden departure is a shocking blow to a ticket that began of 
political necessity in 2014 but grew into a partnership born of respect and 
trust.

   Walker and Mallott, 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 as Walker's lieutenant governor. They won.

   Neither felt he was making a huge sacrifice: Walker, who had skipped the 
Republican primary for an outsider bid, said he had felt marginalized by the 
GOP. Mallott, who had developed an easy rapport with Walker while they were 
rivals, said he trusted him.

   The seeds of their relationship had been sown months earlier, which the two 
spoke about in recent interviews.

   Mallott, impressed that Walker had not flitted in and out of the Alaska 
Federation of Natives conference as he said candidates sometimes did, brought 
him onstage. That struck Walker, who called Mallott the "Elvis of AFN."

   At a debate in Nome --- "our first official date," Walker joked --- they 
agreed on so much that people afterward suggested they should get together. 
Before another event, Mallott told Walker, "I never would have run against you 
if I had known you."

   "Who says that on the way to a debate?" Walker said.

   While the two disagree on some social issues, they shared a mutual respect 
--- greeting each other with hugs, seeking each other's advice --- and were 
guided, they have said, by doing what they think is right for Alaska.

   Mallott said the men agreed early on that if there was a decision to be made 
on an issue they disagreed on because of faith or core moral values, such as 
abortion, that Walker would speak with him before making a final decision. But 
Mallott said he never forgot who was governor.

   This year, their desire to run together helped seal what some have seen as 
an uphill battle for Walker, a three-way fight between him, Begich and Dunleavy.

   After the state Democratic Party changed its rules to let independents run 
in its primaries, Walker flirted with going that route. But he backed out when 
it appeared that Begich would run. Walker instead gathered signatures to get on 
the Nov. 6 ballot, a move that assured he could run with Mallott. Libertarian 
Billy Toien also is running.

   Some Democrats and independents have worried that Walker and Begich would 
split the vote, giving the race to Dunleavy. Libertarian Billy Toien also is 
running.

   Dunleavy, in a statement, said his campaign has been about the people of 
Alaska, not politicians. While awaiting details surrounding Mallott's 
resignation, he said his campaign "remains focused on restoring trust in state 
government."

   Mallott did not return a phone message Tuesday. Walker took no questions 
during a news conference with Valerie Davidson, who was sworn in as lieutenant 
governor Tuesday.

   Mallott, in a resignation letter, apologized for "inappropriate comments I 
made that placed a person whom I respect and revere in a position of political 
vulnerability."

   Baird said the incident that led to Mallott's resignation happened Sunday. 
Walker learned of the comments Monday, from his chief of staff, Baird said.

   He said Walker's office is trying to be careful in what details it releases 
because the woman involved does not want to be publicly identified.

   Heckendorn said the talks with Begich's campaign are separate from Tuesday's 
resignation of Mallott. The talks so far have been inconclusive but will 
continue, he said.

   Mallott's resignation was announced shortly after an at-times testy debate 
in Anchorage featuring Walker, Begich and Dunleavy, the perceived front-runner.

   In a statement, Walker said it's too late for Mallott's name to be removed 
from the ballot, but he said Mallott would not accept the post of lieutenant 
governor if elected. Davidson will assume the role of his running mate, he said.

   Victoria Campbell, who was attending the Alaska Federation of Natives 
conference in Anchorage as word of Mallott's resignation began to spread 
Tuesday, was stunned by the news.

   The Democrat from Gambell, located on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea 
between Russia and the United States, said she didn't know enough to comment on 
the resignation but did say it wouldn't affect her vote for Walker.


(KA)

 
 
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