Sarah Palin primer: Who she is, where she stands
September 6, 2008
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a few hours on Aug. 29 burst from being unknown to almost all Americans to the No. 2 spot on the Republican presidential ticket. Over the next week, round-the-clock news Web sites, traditional media, cable news and blogs produced an explosion of information about her record. Here’s some help in sorting out what’s true, what wasn’t right and what falls into the great gray area of political argument and interpretation.
This is based on reports from the Associated Press, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, McClatchy-Tribune Information Service, factcheck.org and other reports cited below.
• Republican John McCain’s vice presidential nominee
• Alaska governor: December 2006-present.
• Chair, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: 2003-2004.
• Mayor, Wasilla, Alaska: 1996-2002.
• City Council, Wasilla: 1992-1996.
Central to Palin’s political profile is that she is a reformer who takes on entrenched interests and ferrets out waste and corruption. After winning the governor’s office, she sold the state jet and takes credit for telling the federal government that Alaska didn’t need the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” passing state ethics legislation and getting additional tax money from the oil companies.
She has a sky-high approval rating, with 86% of Alaskans saying in May that they had a favorable view of her, according to Anchorage’s KTUU TV.
No gray here. Baptized a Catholic, she grew up attending a Pentacostal church and was baptized there. She now attends non-denominational Wasilla Bible Church.
She opposes abortion in all cases, including instances of rape and incest, unless the mother’s life is at risk. She walks the talk, having given birth in April to a child that she knew would have Down syndrome. Unlike McCain, she opposes stem-cell research.
She has opposed funding what she calls “explicit” sex-education programs in Alaska and supports abstinence-only programs, which urge teens to refrain from sex until marriage.
The Wall Street Journal reported, “Palin has been a champion for school choice, including vouchers and home schooling. … She supports teaching creationism in schools alongside evolution.”
If that link doesn’t work, go to youtube.com and search for “Sarah Palin Wasilla Assembly of God.”
Ready for some gray matter? Congressional earmarks — money targeted to specific projects around the country that McCain opposes — are a way of life in Alaska.
In her speech Wednesday to the Republican convention, Palin repeated the assertion that “I told the Congress ‘thanks but no thanks’ on that bridge to nowhere.”
This $398-million proposed bridge connecting Ketchikan (population about 7,800) to an island that has 50 residents and an airport, became a poster child for wasteful earmarks. Palin consistently endorsed the bridge in 2006 when she was running for governor. After taking office, she did formally end the project.
By then, Congress had already removed the earmark specifying that money already allocated for the bridge be used that way. In ending the project, Palin wrote, “We are about $329 million short of full funding … and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money. Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.”
Alaska has shifted the $60 million or so allocated for the bridge to road projects, according to the Washington Post and other reports.
Palin reduced the state government’s requests for special projects this year to 31 earmarks totaling $198 million. Still, that’s $295 per Alaskan, first among states per-capita; other states got just $34 worth of local projects per person this year, on average, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based watchdog group.
Alaska’s earmark requests to Congress in Palin’s first year in office exceeded $550 million, more than $800 per resident.
There’s no sin in seeking the money. Politicians generally are expected to win grants for their district or state, and typically boast about their ability to bring in money for improvements.
As mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a private lobbyist to secure earmarks. The town obtained 14 earmarks totaling $27 million between 2000-2003, according to data compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, another watchdog group.
Palin on Wednesday described how she disposed of a corporate jet acquired in defiance of the Legislature by her unpopular predecessor, Frank Murkowski. “That luxury jet was over the top,” Palin said to loud cheers at the Republican convention. “I put it on eBay.”
True, and she did keep her campaign promise to sell the plane, but it didn’t sell on eBay. The 23-year-old 10-seat Westwind II was sold in August 2007 for $2.1 million to a Valdez entrepreneur, the AP reported.
Murkowski arranged for the purchase in November 2005 for $2.6 million and was seen as an extravagance.
It wasn’t used exclusively by Murkowski. Alaska does not have adequate prison capacity and contracts for space with a private facility near Phoenix, Ariz. When the state began using the plane in November 2005, prisoner transport accounted for 58% of the jet’s use, and Murkowski’s office used it 23% of the time. Over time, Murkowski’s usage increased.
Today, the U.S. Marshals Service transports 90% of Alaska prisoners to Arizona, with Alaska Airlines taking the rest on commercial flights. The transport costs are less per prisoner now: about $875 per prisoner vs. $1,674 before.
Oil fuels Alaska’s economy, and the state’s cut has led to a $5-billion treasury surplus. As governor, she raised taxes on oil companies as part of a deal to help update Alaska’s formula for extracting royalties from crude production.
With that surplus in place, she got the Legislature to pass an energy-relief measure this year that will send $1,200 checks to eligible Alaskans to offset the rising cost of gasoline and other fuel. Alaska’s energy costs are higher than many other states’ because of its remoteness and vast size.
She goes further than McCain in calling for greater oil exploration, supporting drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, an idea that is anathema to environmentalists. She is widely credited with reviving a long-stalled effort to build a natural-gas pipeline from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay energy fields to the Lower 48 states.
Environmentalists have nicknamed Palin the “killa from Wasilla.”
“Her philosophy from our perspective is cut, kill, dig and drill,” said John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
She has defended Alaska’s right to shoot down wolves from the air to boost caribou and moose herds for hunters, and — contrary to a view held by McCain — is not convinced that global warming is the result of human activity.
She has sued the Bush administration over its conclusion that unless it is protected, the polar bear faces eventual extinction because of disappearing sea ice as the result of global warming.
However, Grist.org reported: “Even environmentalists praise her for taking on political corruption related to the oil and gas industry. And other observers note that Palin has gone to battle against Big Oil on a number of issues, most notably pushing through a big tax increase on oil companies last year.”
“She’s viewed … as almost anti-oil” in her home state, Alaskan GOP pollster Mark Hellenthal told the AP. “She’s probably pro-oil from a national perspective, but she’s not in the pocket of Big Oil. She’s fought them at every step.”
When she took office as mayor of Wasilla, city coffers were flush with revenue from a new sales tax, so she reduced property taxes, the Wall Street Journal and others have reported.
Her signature project as mayor was the construction of the city’s new hockey rink and sports complex. Voters approved a $15 million bond issue and boosted the sales tax to pay off the bonds.
“Other people would talk about having a sports complex for years, and they’d still be talking about it if Sarah Palin hadn’t come along and built it for them,” says Donald Moore, who managed the project.
However, Palin’s administration didn’t have legal title to the land. The matter ended up in court, and the city ultimately paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest and legal fees. “Wasilla isn’t broke, but that put a big dent in our reserve,” says City Councilwoman Dianne Woodruff, a Palin critic. “It happened on her watch.”
Many publications have reported an incident early in her tenure when she asked the library director about censoring books in the library’s collection. The town’s Frontiersman newspaper said Palin didn’t ask about specific books. “I told her clearly, I will fight anyone who tries to dictate what books can go on the library shelves,” library director Mary Ellen Emmons told the paper at the time.
Palin later described her inquiry as “rhetorical” and a way to get to know the city employees.
Emmons soon was among a group of employees Palin sought to fire, but was allowed to keep her job. A letter circulated to newspapers including the Free Press by Wasilla resident Anne Kilkenny says Emmons kept her job because residents rallied to her support.
Palin early in her tenure did fire Wasilla’s police chief, the finance director, city planner and other department heads. “I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the City of Wasilla,” the Journal reported that she wrote to Irl Stambaugh, the police chief. Palin told the Anchorage Daily News then that the letters sent to department heads were just a test of loyalty as she took on the mayor’s job.
Stambaugh sued unsuccessfully, alleging that the mayor was punishing him for his opposition to a law that would allow residents to carry concealed weapons, as well as his efforts to limit late-night bar hours. Bars in Wasilla stay open until 5 a.m.
Palin is under investigation by the Legislature over the dismissal of the state’s public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, who alleges he was pressured to fire her ex-brother-in-law from his state trooper job. Palin denies pressuring Monegan. The state police union says it will file a complaint against her regarding the disclosure of the trooper’s private information.
“It is outrageous and disappointing that the governor would chose to make the Alaska State Troopers the whipping boy for her ethical lapse of judgment,” John Cyr, the executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, says in this Juneau Empire story: http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/090408/sta_328511946.shtml
Palin has said her sister’s ex-husband, Mike Wooten, constituted a legitimate threat to her family. The Empire story says Palin’s lawyer “filed an ethics complaint regarding her dismissal of Monegan. The complaint was an attempt to have the state personnel board investigate the Monegan firing and head off the Legislature’s own investigation. In the complaint, Palin’s attorney accused the Alaska State Troopers of conducting a ‘slipshod’ investigation into Wooten. Troopers opened an investigation into Wooten after Palin’s sister obtained a restraining order against him. Palin and her family told Wooten’s supervisors that he’d committed several illegal acts as a trooper, including threatening to kill Palin’s father and using a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson.”
Palin on her first day as governor pushed ethics reform. The FBI was investigating influence peddling in the Legislature, and Palin appeared at a news conference with the former leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate to unveil an “Ethics White Paper” calling for a clampdown on questionable dealings by lawmakers, the Journal said.
She got the job done, apparently throwing a few elbows along the way, as most politicians, particularly reformers, end up doing.
“I and others were completely taken aback,” Lyda Green, a fellow Republican and senator from Wasilla told the Journal. “It was a strange thing to do on the first day she got here, and a lot of us thought it was just kind of a slap in the face.”
Several reports describe Green as estranged from Palin now. “It’s not possible to have a disagreement with Sarah Palin and then continue a friendly arrangement after that point,” Green, now the Senate president, told the Journal. “After that point, she doesn’t see the disagreement as being on policy. She sees it as personal.”
After Palin’s speech Wednesday, the Anchorage Daily News noted: “She mentioned leading the charge for ethics reform, but didn’t note that Alaska’s new ethics laws drew heavily on work Democrats had done before she took office.”
Alaskan Independence Party
One incorrect report had Palin joining the Alaskan Independence Party, which advocates a vote that could allow the state to secede from the United States.
The McCain campaign quickly produced voter registration records showing Palin as a registered Republican since 1982.
The Independence Party had incorrectly claimed Palin as a member in 1994-96.
Records show that her husband, Todd, registered as a member of the Alaskan Independence Party in 1995, remaining a member for all but two months of the next seven years, until he registered as an undeclared voter in July 2002.