History in the Making

One of the terrific things about living in Alaska's Capital City is the proximity to big, historically significant events.  Juneau, not to mention the entire state of Alaska, was all abuzz on December 1 for the inauguration of Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.  It was a noteworthy and historical swearing-in for a few reasons.  Not only is this the first time for Alaska to have a non-partisan governor and lieutenant governor leading the state, but it's also the first time for both state leaders to be Alaska-born.  Combine those "firsts" with the fact that Byron Mallott is the second Alaska Native to be elected lieutenant governor, and you've got the ingredients to make for a riveting inauguration.

Approximately 900 people packed into Juneau's Centennial Hall and were treated to performances by the Thunder Mountain High School Brass Quintet, the Crimson Quartet, the Filipino Ati Atihan Dancers, and my personal fave - the Mount St. Elias Dancers, a Tlingit dance group from Yakutat.  It was especially touching to see and hear these Alaska Native dancers as their drumming, singing, and dancing filled the room and electrified the audience.

This inauguration was the culmination of much hard work by Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Mallott, who joined together earlier this year to form a "Unity Ticket" during which they campaigned to put "Alaska First" and to "Rise as One."  This inauguration symbolized those ideals, not to mention solidified the focus on cultural diversity.  Watching Lieutenant Governor Mallott enter the ceremony in his traditional Tlingit regalia, an ornate Kwaashk'i Kwaan clan tunic, and a stunning ceremonial hat was met with hearty applause from the audience, not to mention goosebumps from me.

My photos below certainly don't express the magnitude of this great event, so please check out the Inauguration Day photos from Alaska Dispatch News.

For those of you who couldn't be in Juneau to witness the ceremony, here is Governor Walker's inaugural address:

"Thank you, Byron. I am so honored to be on this momentous journey with you. We met as competitors and now we’re a team.

I thank Governor Sean Parnell and Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell for their service, and for making sure we have a smooth transition between administrations. I thank Craig Fleener and Hollis French for their selfless sacrifices in making this historic unification possible.

And I thank all of you for joining us today. What an honor it was just now to walk through Centennial Hall and pass by the “Egan,” “Hickel” and “Hammond” rooms to enter the grand ballroom for this moment. I am before you today, standing on the shoulders of giants.

My parents, Ed and Frances Walker, and my sister, Kath are no longer with us, but I would be so proud to have them by my side today as they are a significant part of the very fabric of who I am. My sister, Sue, is unable to travel but is watching and I am so grateful to have my brother, Bob, with me today.

My family’s story is Alaska’s story.

My father fought in World War II in the Aleutians as one of 65 of Castner’s Cutthroats in the Alaskan Scouts. My mother came to Alaska to work on the building of the ALCAN Highway. They met on a train near Mt. McKinley when an avalanche stopped it from going farther. They soon married and in 1951, I was born in Fairbanks—before statehood.

For much of my childhood in Delta Junction, my family was poorer than poor. Our roof leaked, and there were times we had no electricity or running water.  Some of my earliest memories are of the wind blowing snow into my face as I collected firewood to heat our home. I also remember when I was 5 years old walking through a herd of bison to return from the outhouse to our home in the middle of a subzero night. 

I remember my parents’ efforts and advocacy for statehood. Indelibly etched in my memory is the very day the eight stars on the Alaska flag became the 49th star on the United States flag. The headlines proclaimed, “We’re In!” All over Alaska, we felt the tremendous accomplishment of working together towards a common goal – and succeeding.

Soon after statehood we moved to Valdez, where my dad started his own construction business with his crew of two—my brother, Bob, and myself. I was 10 years old. We left for work each morning at 5:30 before school, because my father believed you need to labor for a few hours in order to appreciate your breakfast.

A few short years later, on a spring day in 1964, the ground trembled, opened up and nearly swallowed our town. It did swallow all of our new building materials sitting on the dock and most of our other possessions. Valdez lost 34 people in the 1964 Earthquake; mostly children. Among them, my friends. I was 12 years old. 

Rather than declaring bankruptcy, our family of six took every odd job we could. We scrubbed toilets, mopped floors and I bid on and won the janitorial contract at the post office. I worked that job until a federal inspector came to town and declared that a 12-year-old was too young to have a federal contract. And that became my first run-in with the federal government!

My family struggled to rebuild what it had lost, but times were tough. Then came the oil pipeline. In 1971, I went to work unloading pipe off ships from Japan. When I got my first paycheck, I was stunned. I had never seen so much money.

Working as a laborer, teamster and journeyman carpenter on the construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline put me through college. It also led me to Donna, my brilliant, hardworking, wonderful wife; the smartest person I know. Were it not for her, I would not be standing here before you today.

Our greatest accomplishment is the family we have raised together. We are so proud of our four children—Lindsay, Tessa, Adam and Jordan, our sons-in-law Greg and Dennis, our daughter-in-law, Sabrina. We adore our grandchildren, Mera and Porter and cannot wait to meet our two grandsons due early next year.

Donna and I do have a wonderful family. I often think of Alaskans as one big family, too. 

We pull together in tough times, just as we did when one of the largest earthquakes in the world tore our lives apart. We came together to rebuild our state and make it stronger. Then, we built the oil pipeline. Just as it forever changed my life, the pipeline broke new ground for the state of Alaska. 

Today, oil is hovering around $70 a barrel. We’re heading into some lean times. There is no reason we cannot turn that around. We live in one of the most resource-rich states in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. However, the key to every growing economy is low-cost energy. Alaska is rich in resources. We don’t have a resource problem. We have a distribution problem. I am steadfastly committed to delivering natural gas to Alaskans and to the lucrative global markets.

And, for far too long, too many Alaskans have gone without health care. When one person is sick and doesn’t get medical attention, the entire family suffers. I told you that expanding Medicaid would be one of the first things I do in office and we will immediately set the wheels in motion to do just that. Up to 40,000 of our friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers have gone too long without preventive care. We must fix that. 

My administration will work to restore some of the faith and trust that has been lost. I vow to you that you will have an open and transparent government. Our transition team got us off to a solid start recently when more than 250 people from all over the state crossed party lines and brought the diversity of voices, experiences and backgrounds to sit together to address some of our most challenging and divisive issues. Open dialogue and inclusive problem-solving strategies will be a hallmark of my administration.

I also promised you that I would assemble a leadership team comprised of some of the state’s best and brightest. Already, many accomplished, top-of-their-field standouts have answered “yes” to the call of duty to serve Alaska at this critical juncture. Many are leaving high-paying jobs and solid career paths to serve the state and the people they love. I thank them for their sacrifices and for taking the field with me to help secure a promising future for all Alaskans – one of prosperity and generational security.

I have ridden the highs and lows of our state’s history. I know the peaks and the valleys we’ve found ourselves in as a state. And I know first-hand that every valley we’ve faced has required a steep uphill climb. But we always find our way back to the peak. And we will do so again!

I know that hard work is not a partisan effort, but an Alaskan value. There is no natural disaster, man-made catastrophe or fiscal crisis that can withstand the force of the mighty Alaskan spirit. Like a family, we are diverse, we are passionate—especially when we disagree, but we are all united by a common thread. We are rising as one. We are on that steep climb to our next peak. It is with great honor that I lead you all on that journey.

Many of you know that Governor Wally Hickel was a mentor of mine. As we face the challenges of the next four years, I am reminded of his words:

“And let us be sure that those who come after us will say of us that we did everything that could be done. We finished the race. We kept Alaska strong. We kept the faith and put Alaska First.”

Thank you, Alaska. I am honored to serve as your governor. My service to you will be fully dedicated, honest and hardworking. You are why I am here. You come first. I will never forget that. God bless you and God bless Alaska."