JUNEAU — Democratic state Sen. Hollis French has opted against another run for governor and instead set his sights on next year’s lieutenant governor race.
French announced the campaign on his Facebook page late Tuesday and confirmed it in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.
He said he will support Alaska Native leader Byron Mallott as the Democratic candidate for governor.
French, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010 and had been mulling another run, said a major reason he decided against it was his belief that Mallott had a good chance of winning the general election in November 2014.
French said neither Republican Gov. Sean Parnell nor independent Bill Walker is expected to have a real primary challenge at this point. “I thought we, Democrats, should try to avoid a primary,” he said.
Walker, who finished behind Parnell in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010, is running as an unaffiliated candidate this time.
In the lieutenant governor race, Palmer math teacher Bob Williams previously announced plans to run as a Democrat.
Williams told the AP that his plans are unchanged by French’s announcement and he is “definitely in this race,” actively campaigning and fundraising.
In addition to wanting to help Mallott win the gubernatorial race, French said he also sees an “enormous amount” of work to be done in the area of elections.
“We’re seeing a lot of pushes at the state and national level to restrict voting rights, and that has to be fought with vigor,” French said.
In Alaska, the lieutenant governor oversees elections. The state’s current lieutenant governor, Republican Mead Treadwell, is running for U.S. Senate.
French appeared at a Mallott rally in Anchorage Wednesday, a day after Mallott officially launched his campaign.
He said he was still considering a run for governor as late as last week but met with Mallott and stayed with his family in Juneau. French said the right thing to do became clear.
“I am taking a step back for the team because I believe Byron Mallott can win this election,” French said. He called Mallott a unifier with a holistic vision for Alaska that has been missing.
Mallott told reporters that he appreciated French’s support and wished him well in his race.
While party candidates for governor and lieutenant governor aren’t a team until voters make them one through the primary process, French said in an interview that Alaskans will see him and Mallott working together on the campaign trail.
Mallott said he would wait for the outcome of the primary to see who would be his running mate. “That’s part of our democratic process, and it needs to be honored,” Mallott said.
French was first elected to the Alaska Senate in 2002. He is a former prosecutor and has been an outspoken critic of the oil tax law championed by Parnell and passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature earlier this year.