- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — In his first speech after taking office, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said his administration would begin work immediately to expand Medicaid in the state.

Walker took the oath of office Monday in Juneau, on a Bible that his spokeswoman said had been in his family since the 1800s. He was sworn in by Alaska Supreme Court Justice Daniel Winfree, who joked at the end: “You may now kiss the bride.”

And Walker did, leaning over to kiss first lady Donna Walker.

The swearing in ceremony for Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was held at Centennial Hall in a packed ballroom. Among those on stage was former Gov. Sean Parnell, who lost to Walker in last month’s election.

Walker said his administration would reverse course on Parnell’s decision not to expand Medicaid.

He also warned of lean times ahead with oil prices low but said there was no reason the situation could not be turned around. He said Alaska is rich in resources and the key to every growing economy is low-cost energy. Alaska doesn’t have a resource problem, but a distribution problem, one that he said he is committed to addressing.

An attorney perhaps best known for his support of an all-Alaska natural gas pipeline, Walker finished second to Parnell in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. He ran this time as an independent, initially with Craig Fleener as his running mate.

But after the primary, in an effort to mount a stronger challenge to Parnell, Walker joined with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Byron Mallott, to create a “unity” ticket. As part of the package, Walker changed his political affiliation from Republican to undeclared and Mallott became his running mate.

Fleener, who willingly stepped aside for Mallott on the ticket, was the master of ceremonies at the inauguration.

Walker and Mallott had found themselves agreeing on a number of issues during primary debates. Walker has said he intends to reach out to Mallott as part of his decision-making process.

Walker faces a number of challenges, including budget deficits amid lower revenues. He also will have to decide how to proceed on a major liquefied natural gas project that the state is currently pursuing with oil and gas and pipeline companies.

Walker, 63, was born and raised in Alaska. He and his wife plan to live in the governor’s mansion in Juneau, as Parnell and his wife did.

Alaska Airlines added an additional flight to Juneau, which is accessible only by air or water, for the inauguration.

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