Waiting game begins in narrow governor's race

Photo/Michael Dinneen/AP

For Alaska’s gubernatorial candidates, election night was just the start of the waiting game.

With all precincts reporting, independent candidate Bill Walker had 107,395 votes to incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s 104,230, or 47.8 percent to 46.4 percent, but an estimated 20,000 absentee ballots still had to be counted as of early Nov. 5, and the Alaska Division of Elections could still receive more before the final Nov. 19 deadline.

In the meantime, the two planned to continue their work.

“We still are working to make sure the budget gets done, every departments’ daily duties are met, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Parnell said late Nov. 4 at his campaign party at the downtown Anchorage Hilton.

He trailed in the votes all night by between 2,000 and 3,000 votes, and did not visit election central at the Egan Center. Shortly before midnight Nov. 4, Parnell said he didn’t want anyone to prematurely decide the race and that it was “important that every vote gets counted.”

The atmosphere at Walker’s campaign party inside Anchorage’s Performing Arts Center was upbeat, with a round of cheering when the first results were announced about 9 p.m., and a drum-beating march into election central later in the night.

Walker said earlier in the evening that he would wake up Nov. 5 and kiss his wife. He had hoped for enough of a lead to then get started with his transition team — a group he said would “look like Alaska” — right away. Regardless of the wait, he would be thinking about his next steps, he said, and getting together with his running mate.

Byron Mallot, the former Democrat gubernatorial nominee running alongside Walker for lieutenant governor on the “unity ticket” formed after the Aug. 19 primary, was stuck in Juneau due to mechanical issues with the plane he planned to fly north in, and didn’t make it to Anchorage until after midnight when most of the election events were winding down.

Walker and Parnell struck differing positions on several issues — particularly oil taxes and the effort to build a large-volume natural gas export pipeline project — and the outlook for Alaska’s North Slope producers remains up in the air until the ballots are counted.

If Parnell is reelected it will mean his policies favorable to the industry will be sustained, particularly his signature accomplishment in office, an agreement with North Slope producers and TransCanada Corp. on a $50 billion-plus North Slope gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas export project.

Beyond that, Parnell pushed through a major overhaul of the state oil and gas production tax to induce new industry investment and initiated changes in state land management policies to expedite permits for development.

Parnell said he didn’t believe the close race was a referendum on his oil tax changes.

“A lot of factors are at play,” he said. “…I don’t think oil taxes are necessarily a part of it.”

Walker, however, differentiated himself from his opponent on those issues.

During the campaign Walker was critical of the effort for a North Slope gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas export project agreement Parnell signed with North Slope producers and TransCanada Corp., but said he would support the work now underway by the state-industry project team. Parnell predicted during the campaign that a Walker victory would cause producers to pause if not stop their current spending on the pre-front end engineering and design, or pre-FEED, phase of the project.

Walker said he would “review” the project to ensure it is in the state’s interest, and might seek a larger participation for the state if he is dissatisfied or if one of the producers tries to pull out of the deal, but wants the gas/LNG project to stay on schedule for a start of construction in 2018.

Walker also said he will not seek to change a 2013 revamp in the state’s oil and gas production that that was another one of Parnell’s signature accomplishments that was upheld through a referendum Aug. 19.

Tim Bradner contributed to this story.

11/18/2016 - 9:45am