The head of Alaska’s largest labor federation says at this point, Gov. Bill Walker would have most unions’ support. And he wants Walker and former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to reach an agreement that would leave only one of them in the race for governor.
Four years ago, the Alaska AFL-CIO endorsed independent Bill Walker – after Democratic candidate Byron Mallott joined Walker’s ticket as the candidate for lieutenant governor.
Based on what the Walker-Mallott administration has done since then, federation President Vince Beltrami said the governor deserves re-election. The AFL-CIO will make an endorsement on Aug. 24 – if two-thirds of its unions can agree.
“If I had to make a bet, I would say that, if we can get an endorsement, if we can get two-thirds, that it would be more for Gov. Walker at this point, because folks believe that he’s earned re-election in our eyes,” Beltrami said before adding: “Now that’s just my opinion.”
The AFL-CIO released poll results Monday that show Republican candidate Mike Dunleavy leading, with Walker and Democrat Mark Begich tied for second in a three-way race. Dunleavy would have 32 percent of the votes – Walker and Begich, 28 percent each, with 12 percent undecided. But the poll said both Walker and Begich would defeat Dunleavy if there were only two major candidates.
Beltrami said a two-person race would be best for workers.
“I hope that there can be some consensus between the Walker and Begich camps on the way forward, and of course that would mean, you know, potentially one of those candidates either stepping aside or coming to some kind of agreement like what happened back in 2014,” he said.
Labor unions can play a big role in Alaska elections. The state has the fourth-highest rate of union membership of any state, at 18 percent of workers.
Beltrami said he was a little disappointed and surprised that Begich entered the race. He’s supported Begich in all of his previous runs, but the union leader said this time it’s confusing to voters.
“I don’t think it was the best calculation from our perspective for Mark to get in,” he said. “He claims that there’s a path to winning. I haven’t seen that yet. I’m still looking forward to see if that bears out, but in general it just kind of complicated the race a little bit more.”
Walker said he appreciates what Beltrami had to say about the race.
“I think we have walked the talk on where we are with labor,” Walker said. “And a very significant part of that, of course, is the project labor agreement for a gas line.”
Begich also is proud of his record on labor. And he said he was encouraged by the poll results. He noted he won a three-way race to become Anchorage mayor in 2003.
“In a lot of ways, I think the next seven or eight weeks will really tell the story of who has the best chance of winning in November,” Begich said. “I don’t think it can be determined based on a moment in time.”
Walker said he expects his campaign will talk with Begich’s about narrowing the field.
“I anticipate there will be communications to a certain degree going forward and I think that’s probably a necessary piece to somewhat simplify the race to a two-way rather than a three-way” race, Walker said.
Begich said it’s too soon to predict how his campaign will interact with Walker’s. He said that a week can be a lifetime in politics.
“I think if the governor’s making those comments, then we’ll see how the time goes,” he said. “But I can tell you that we’re running full tilt. We – really, this is our first week of a hard, focused campaign, (after) the first four weeks getting organized, getting our state structure together. And now we’re putting it all out there starting this week.”
The AFL-CIO will hear from candidates at a convention on Aug. 23, and could issue endorsements the next day. Beltrami said unions also will be active in legislative races.
Dunleavy faces six opponents in the Republican primary: former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell; Darin Colbry, a janitor and landscaping worker; Thomas Gordon, a heavy equipment mechanic; Gerald Heikes, who has owned a drywall company; Merica Hlatcu, an engineer; and Michael Sheldon, a handyman. Libertarian Billy Toien, a hotel concierge, also is running in the general election.