From: Davis, Julie [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, August 31, 2015 02:33 PM
To: Allen, Jessica L. EOP
Subject: Travel pool report #2a, 8/31/15 - Gov. Walker of Alaska chat
Travel Pool Report #2a, 8/31/15 – Governor Walker chat
Governor Bill Walker of Alaska, who traveled with President Obama on Air Force One en route Anchorage, came back to the press cabin to chat for about 20 minutes. He did not make news, but below are highlights, with thanks to co-pooler Colleen McCain Nelson of the Wall Street Journal for her assistance:
Walker was ebullient about the renaming of Denali, which he admitted even he had to get used to calling it. He said the White House had told him a few weeks ago they were considering renaming the peak formerly known as Mount McKinley, but it was a “big surprise” to him when he saw it on the front page of his newspaper today.
“We got Denali back, we’re excited about that,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”
On the significance of Obama’s trip:
“We’re excited to have a president come up and it’s actually a destination, it’s not just a low-on-fuel stop.”
“He’s very curious about the state,” Walker said of Obama.
He said he spoke with Obama about past presidents who had visited Alaska, including Jimmy Carter, who went fly-fishing, Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, who visited the governor’s house in Juneau not long before his death (“I didn’t bring that one up,” Walker said), and Ronald Reagan, who stayed at the home of then-Senator Frank Murkowski in Fairbanks, where the hot water ran out and “they were out there with flashlights, trying to figure out how to get the hot water going again.”
Walker said it was “great” that the president can “get out and touch Alaska, be part of it.”
On Alaska’s challenges:
“We’re about 90 percent tied to the price of oil,” Walker said, so the state has seen revenues plummet and is suffering from a deficit of $3.5 billion a year, which has forced cuts in services, including closing the state trooper station at the base of Denali.
“A concern we have is our military drawdown in Alaska, given our proximity to Russia,” Walker said, noting that it’s only 2.6 miles “landmass-to-landmass” between Alaska and Russia, less than 1 mile by water. “It’s the biggest buildup of the Russian military since the Cold War. They’re re-opening 10 bases and building four more, and they’re all in the Arctic, so here we are in the middle of the pond, feeling a little bit uncomfortable with the military drawdown.”
Walker talked about his recent unilateral decision to expand Medicaid, which has drawn legal challenges, and said he had thanked the administration for granting waivers he had requested for the expansion.
He also said he had thanked Obama for allowing Shell to drill offshore. He said he was confident Shell will drill safely off Alaska’s coast. He said he’s hoping to see “revenue sharing from the off shore – we don’t get any money at all from it.”
He said he remains hopeful the government soon will announce a new icebreaker for the region.
“We hope so. Russia’s got a ton of icebreakers,” he said.
Walker noted twice that he was elected governor as an nonpartisan, running on a “unity ticket,” meaning he is "politically debt-free."
He said the biggest misperception about Alaska is the belief that because Alaska has so much oil and gas, they have economical energy. Alaska has the highest energy costs in the nation because the population is dispersed over such a large area, he said. “We pay the highest energy bills in the nation, if not the world just because we’re so spread out,” Walker said.
Julie Hirschfeld Davis
White House Correspondent
The New York Times
(202) xxx-xxx-xxxx mobile
(202) xxx-xxx-xxxx direct