Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor, Byron Mallott, resigned under mysterious circumstances yesterday. His resignation letter to Governor Bill Walker cited “inappropriate overtures” made to an unnamed person.
Unknown comments, secret swearing
Byron Mallott informed the governor of his intention to leave office on Monday night, but the announcement was not made public until noon yesterday. By that time a new lieutenant governor, Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, had secretly been sworn in as Mallott’s replacement.
What exactly Mallott did, and to whom, remains under wraps.
“Byron recently made inappropriate comments that do not reflect the sterling level of behavior required in his role as Lieutenant Governor,” Governor Walker said at a press conference yesterday. “Byron has taken full responsibility for his actions and has resigned. As leaders, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of conduct.”
Mallott was not at the press conference, and is not returning calls to journalists. A very small amount of detail is beginning to leak out, however. According to the Must Read Alaska blog, the inappropriate comments he made were to a woman.
This appears to be backed up by a comment from the new Lieutenant Governor Davidson, who did attend yesterday’s press conference. “Respect for women, and the dignity of all Alaskans, is our responsibility. I stand ready to serve as your Lieutenant Governor,” she said.
What the departure of Byron Mallott means for the election
A rare independent governor in American politics, Byron Mallott’s departure creates a real headache for Bill Walker just three weeks out from the November 6th election.
First of all, Mallott’s name has been printed on the ballot, and absentee ballots have already been distributed. Mallott has indicated that if re-elected he will stand down in favor of Davidson again.
Sorting out the ballot is the least of Walker’s worries, however.
As a former Republican, Walker had aligned himself with Democrat Mallott in 2014 to solidify his credentials as an independent. In that race, Mallott had joined Walker’s ticket in a sort of merger: the Democratic candidate stepped aside in favor of Walker, and Mallott became his running mate instead.
In 2018 the path is not so clear for Walker. Both the Republicans and Democrats are running against him, as are the Libertarians, in a complicated four-way race. Without Mallott beside him, his appeal to registered Democrats is weakened (especially as newly-minted Lt Gov Davidson is a registered independent).
Walker is trailing Republican Mike Dunleavy badly by nearly twenty percent in the polls, and now rumors are circulating that he may once again try to cut a deal with the Democrats. If he managed to pick up most of their candidate Mark Begich’s support, it could make the race competitive.
But the departure of Byron Mallott may possibly prove more of a distraction for Walker than a problem of political calculation. Until they are answered, questions about what exactly Mallott did to require such a sudden departure at such a crucial moment will continue to circulate.
And, some voters may ask if Walker’s desire to “hold ourselves to the highest standards of conduct” should not include a higher standard of transparency as well.