When you’re in a position of power, freebies and swag is par for the course. Historically, diplomatic gifts can be scary (George H.W. Bush received the largest komodo dragon in the western hemisphere from the Indonesian government), ridiculous (Hillary Clinton gave Russia a mislabeled “reset” button), hilarious (China sent President Richard Nixon two panda bears), as well as impressive (the queen of Brunei recently sent Michelle Obama $71,468 worth of jewels). But for the governor of Alaska, diplomatic gifts are meant to be rugged. “We are very proud of what we have in Alaska — of our resources and the natural beauty,” says Alaska Governor Bill Walker. “We are very unique up here.”
This year Governor Walker reported his diplomatic gifts in ethics disclosure forms according to legislative code. Alaskan law mandates that public officials in the executive branch must report gifts worth at least $150 if it's connected to their official position. Gifts to and from other political figures must always be declared. And by the looks of it, Governor Walker had an entertaining year giving and gifting presents.
Walker reported receiving a trip on Air Force One, compliments of President Obama — along with an engraved wooden box with two sets of playing cards for the ride — when the president made a trip to the last frontier in 2015. ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp. gifted tours of their North Slope facilities last year, and the president of Iceland sent along a book about his native country. The native Yakutat Tlingit Tribes sent a pair of sea otter fur gloves to the politician, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation sent a few duck calls his way. Additionally, an executive with Alaska Airlines bestowed a football signed by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
But the strangest gifts on Walker’s list, however, are the mounted Alaska king crabs that he and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott received. Walker's is red and Mallott's is blue — signifying a Democrat-Republican union. Today the governor’s crab is on display in his Anchorage office. “I can’t pick a favorite gift,” Walker says. “A jar of smoked salmon made by a fisherman in rural Alaska is heartfelt and ranks just as high as being on Air Force One.”
Some of these gifts have gone to practical use. Walker said he wore the fur sea otter mittens during a three-mile run with the dog sled team of former Iditarod champion John Baker during the ceremonial start of this year's race, and reported that they are very warm.
As for what the governor of Alaska gives everyone? Walker favors giving gifts that reflect Alaska’s rugged heritage. Walker gave First Lady Michelle Obama a $70 pair of sterling silver earrings in the shape of salmon heads and hoodies from a Juneau retailer to the Obama daughters. “Giving gifts that reflect our state allows us to introduce our state to other people,” he says. “It’s a unique way to share a slice of Alaska.” He’s infamous for giving locally made jams, jellies, and smoked salmon. “My taste for smoked salmon has become known,” he says. “The mayor of Petersburg makes it himself and drops it off at my Juneau office.”
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