Alaska, Featured, Politics

An Interview with Alaska Governor Bill Walker

Governor Bill Walker at the Seward Airport. Photo: Michelle Strubeck
by Michelle Strubeck for Seward City News-

On August 25th, Governor Bill Walker, our second Alaskan born governor, arrived in Seward to spend some personal time here with his wife Donna in celebration of their fortieth wedding anniversary. The Walkers also took part in the Lost Lake Run benefiting those with cystic fibrosis; a cause that is close their hearts as their daughter-in-law has cystic fibrosis. The governor mentioned that he likes to take the opportunity to thank those that participated in the run while raising money for a good cause.

Upon his arrival in Seward the governor was greeted at the airport by Mayor Jean Bardarson, City Manager Jim Hunt and Assistant City Manager Ron Long. Jim Hunt stated that it was very generous of the governor to take time out of his personal schedule to spend a few brief moments with city officials and where else but Alaska could that happen? Jim went on to say that they were very grateful for their window of opportunity with the governor. While at the airport, they had a brief meeting with the governor while driving him around the airport to talk about important issues such as past efforts for improvements and increasing accessibility to Seward by air. The long runway was recently closed to aircraft weighing over 12,500 pounds due to flooding issues, packed ground being eroded and the runway being weakened in certain sections. Jim Hunt stated that they are currently working their way through bureaucracy and they are working with the state to extend the short runway by 600 feet. The state has retained Solstice Alaska Consulting, Inc. as the company to do the planning and the Department of Transportation still holds 17 million dollars from when former Senator Mark Begich was in office. The Department of Transportation does not have a full plan just yet, but the Mayor, City Manager and Assistant City Manager wanted the governor to be aware of the situation if help should be needed at some point. Mayor Bardarson stated that the governor was very receptive and thankful for making him aware of the situation.

After Governor Walker spent time with city officials, I had an opportunity to meet with him myself. When asked what is seen as one of the greatest challenges facing the state the governor replied the fiscal budget has been one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. However, he said much progress has been made. Legislation was passed on restructuring resulting in a 1.7 billion dollar reduction in operations and overall spending is down 43%.

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In terms of goals for the state, two items were mentioned. The first goal is to have a sustainable fiscal plan so the state does not go through another period of adjustment and live off the price of oil. He explained that growth needs to be sustained and Alaska can be grown with infrastructure and responsible resource development. Governor Walker said that it is a matter of looking at what we have and taking advantage of value added opportunities versus shipping raw materials. The second goal that was discussed was finding more opportunities for tourism.

When discussing the accomplishments he is most proud of so far, Governor Walker replied he is most proud of the Medicaid expansion which provided access to healthcare for 30,000 Alaskans.

On the subject of North Korea and how their capabilities might affect Alaska, Governor Walker explained that he receives regular briefings from Washington, D.C. and JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson) and he is in regular communication with Governor David Ige of Hawaii. In terms of preparedness, Fort Greeley has a 32 missile interception system with plans for six more. The governor stated that Alaska is in a good position to intercept and it is an issue that is taken very seriously.

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