“Governor Walker governs from the far left,” Tuckerman Babcock said after an April poll found his approval rating had fallen to 43 percent. “He’s given up state sovereignty, and each year he introduces an unbalanced budget.”
That places the state’s Republican Party chairman on the apex of identity politics. Apparently, he’s got no patience or respect for independent minded politicians. Or the majority of Alaskan voters who show no allegiance to either party.
His statements are false, false and false. The policies of Gov. Bill Walker’s administration wander from right to left but never veer too far from the center. Alaska hasn’t reverted to its pre-statehood territorial status. And every year he’s submitted a balanced budget which fully addresses the revenue shortfall caused by the collapse of oil prices.
Not a single reputable news source grabbed Babcock’s ridiculous quote when reporting on Walker’s approval rating. It was posted on Must Read Alaska, a website with 976 Facebook followers. Rather than bringing them “news of people, politics, policy, culture, and happenings in Alaska,” it’s a one-sided view of the state written by Suzanne Downing, the author of every Must Read Alaska article and the Alaska Republican Party’s assistant treasurer.
Last week Babcock got a more visible opportunity to show he’s out of touch with Alaskan independents. “Gov. Walker represents Democrats,” he told an Alaska Public Media reporter after Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said he and Walker will likely seek re-election in 2018. He’s hoping “the Democratic party will get its act together and will have an upfront Democrat. So, from our perspective, having two Democrats running is a good thing.”
Democrats wouldn’t consider challenging Walker if he was really governing from the far left. But even though he’s naturally inclined toward Republican values, they should think hard before recruiting prospective candidates to run next year. It’s likely to backfire and put someone much more conservative in the Governor’s mansion.
That’s because, according to the Division of Elections, Democrats rank behind Republicans and independents. Non-partisan and undeclared voters outnumber Democrats by three and a half to one.
And their electoral success in statewide offices is incredibly dismal.
Tony Knowles was the last Democrat elected Governor. In a three-way race in which the incumbent Lieutenant Governor ran on an Alaskan Independence party ticket, Knowles won by only 500 votes. His 1998 re-election victory was equally unimpressive because the GOP withdrew its support for their own nominee.
In the past 35 years, they notched only one other win. In 2008, Mark Begich barely beat Sen. Ted Stevens, who had served there for 38 years. Just before the election, Stevens lost national Republican Party support because he’d been convicted on seven corruption charges.
But Babcock and company shouldn’t let their electoral successes fool them. Independent voters here outnumber Republicans two to one. Three years ago, Walker left the party and bested a Republican incumbent. They had to swallow that bitter pill four years after U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski got more write-in votes than Joe Miller, the candidate they endorsed after he beat Murkowski in the Republican primary.
Like Walker, Murkowski has streaks of independence that infuriate Republicans. Neither supported Donald Trump in last fall’s election. Both understand how Alaskans benefit from the Medicaid expansion provision of Obamacare. Murkowski supported same sex marriage before the Supreme Court ruling that made it legal across the country. Walker’s sustainable budget plan includes a state income tax, which most Alaskans support.
These are litmus test issues for Republicans. In their eyes, crossing the line means you must be an agent of the other party.
That line defines the superset of identity politics. The term usually refers to the shaping of views based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and several other socially distinct factors. But those fall under the umbrella of our two-party system where, more often than not, Republicans and Democrats define themselves by opposing dogmas.
That’s how Republicans operated during the past eight years. They were the anti-Obama party. Being in power now hasn’t made them successful. The Congress they control has a 70 percent disapproval rating.
Walker is much more respected than the party he left behind. His approval rating may be low, but it’s because he’s facing the hard realities of our time with political courage. And state Democrats should back his re-election bid because Alaska’s independent electorate won’t turn left anytime soon.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.