Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott resigned Tuesday. At a news conference, Gov. Bill Walker said that Mallott made “inappropriate comments.”
The governor said: “Byron recently made inappropriate comments that do not reflect the sterling level of behavior required in his role as lieutenant governor. I learned of the incident last night. Byron has taken full responsibility for his actions and has resigned.”
The resignation was immediate. The governor did not elaborate about the nature of the comments nor would say who was involved.
Walker also announced the appointment of Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson as the new lieutenant governor.
Davidson, Yupik, is the first Native American woman to serve as a lieutenant governor in any state. She will not be on the ballot in November, but should the governor be re-elected, she would continue serving as the lieutenant governor. The election is just three weeks away and already complicated by a three-way division. Walker is independent and faces former Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, and Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, for the office.
Alaska is now one of two states where two Native American women are on essentially on the ballot for lieutenant governor. Debra Call, Dena'ina, is the Democratic party's nominee.
Walker praised Davidson in his short news conference, saying: “We are grateful for her commitment to serve our people and our state with strength and grace."
Davidson said at the news conference that “Alaskans deserve the highest standards of conduct by their elected officials. While I am deeply saddened by the resignation of Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, I am profoundly disappointed by his conduct. Respect for women, and the dignity of all Alaskans, is our responsibility. I stand ready to serve as your Lieutenant Governor.”
Davidson brings an extraordinary resume of public service to the office. She was the primary architect of the state’s Medicaid expansion, a cause she fought for while in her previous job as director of intergovernmental relations for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
The expansion of Medicaid was a campaign promise by Walker. Davidson said at a news conference when the expansion was announced that Walker had worked “tirelessly” to make it so. “He included it in the budget. He introduced a bill both in the House and in the Senate side. It was a subject of both special sessions. And, it’s the right thing do do for Alaska.”
The expansion of Medicaid significantly boosted resources that are spent on Alaska Native health across the board. According to state data, “nearly 40 percent of Medicaid clients are Alaska Natives and an equal amount of program expenditures are made on their behalf. Alaska Natives are more likely to utilize health care services provided by the tribal health system if available. However, two thirds of the funds spent on Alaska Native health care is paid to private sector providers.”
Davidson was also a key voice in the expansion of the Dental Health Therapy Program in Alaska, a oral health initiative that trains people right out of high school to serve in the villages doing basic dental care.
Davidson will give the keynote speech on Thursday at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention meeting this week in Anchorage.
The Anchorage Daily News called this “an overdue step” to empower Native women. The newspaper said: “Although it took 59 years after statehood for an Alaska Native woman to hold the lieutenant governor's office, the legacy of strong Alaska Native women making strides on Alaska's political scene has existed for much longer. It stretches from Elizabeth Peratrovich's fight for Alaska Native civil rights, leading to the passage of the territorial Anti-Discrimination Act, to Ahtna elder Katie John's historic lawsuit establishing subsistence hunting and fishing privileges, to Tara Sweeney's appointment as federal Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, and now to Lt. Gov. Davidson.”