Most of you live in what we Alaskans like to call the "Lower 48", and as such, had probably never heard of Sarah Palin before last week. If you've watched any news at all since last Friday, you've probably heard plenty about her by now. Well, allow me to provide you with a small reality check on my Governor. It's a long story, but hopefully an interesting one. I urge you to read this in its entirety, and share it with everyone you know.
You really can't talk about Sarah Palin without some background about her predecessor, Frank Murkowski. Frank had been Alaska's junior Senator since 1980. When he ran for Governor in 2002, columnist Mike Doogan noted his major accomplishments included "keeping a gray suit from falling down on the floor for over 2 decades." When you stand in the shadow of Ted Stevens though, it's awfully hard to get noticed here in Alaska. Oh, and Ted is a story all his own, but one for another time. In 2002, Alaska revenues were in decline as oil production on the north slope was dwindling. Talk of a state sales tax or income tax was in the air, but Murkowski would have none of it. He insisted that he would not raise taxes, along with other standards from the Republican playbook, and won the election over the incumbent Lieutenant Governor. Within his first month, he raised the state gasoline tax. When challenged about his campaign promise to not raise taxes, he responded that "the gas tax isn't really a tax - it's a user fee. If you don't want to pay it, don't use gas." Seriously. Talk about starting off on the wrong foot.
At the time, if a sitting U.S. Senator leaves office for any reason, the Governor selected a replacement. After claiming that he was going to cast a wide net and choose the most qualified candidate, he selected his own daughter, Lisa Murkowski, who had been a state legislator for a few year.
You've probably heard about "the jet." Frank wanted the jet because until that time, the Governor of Alaska had to travel around the state in a propellor-driven plane. It was slow, had a limited range, and didn't have a bathroom on board. But the State Legislature said "no, we're not buying you a jet." And although they wouldn't appropriate the money, he moved some around in the budget and bought it anyway. Average Alaskans didn't care for that decision either, and the jet became the subject of many jokes, including a contest to pick a name for it. I think the winner was "The Bald Ego."
You've also probably heard about the natural gas pipeline. Although the north slope of Alaska is home to our country's largest oil reserves, it has even more natural gas. However, with the prices of oil and natural gas relatively low, it has not been economically feasible to build a pipeline for the gas. As energy supplies have diminished, the gas pipeline has moved closer and closer to becoming a reality. To move things forward, Frank Murkowski met behind closed doors with the heads of the three major oil companies that operate in Alaska, and put together what most folks think was a sweetheart deal. He tried to strongarm the legislature into approving the deal, but they didn't go along.
In the meantime, there were other ethical scandals in the Murkowski administration. His Attorney General, Greg Renkes, was found to have been involved in a financial conflict of interest and forced to resign. All of these events were eroding Murkowski's popularity here in Alaska, and by the end of his term, he was the least popular Governor in the country.
Murkowski had also hired the head of the Alaska Republican Party, Randy Ruedrich, to work on the oil and gas commission. It was discovered that despite signing a declaration, Ruedrich conducted Republican Party business on the State's dime. This was where Sarah Palin rose to notoriety, as a fellow commissioner, she blew the whistle on Ruedrich. He was forced to resign from the oil and gas commission, but amazingly enough, has been retained as the head of the Alaska Republican Party. I guess they figure: "Sure, he's an unethical jerk. But he's OUR unethical jerk, and he's effective." But out of this scandal came Sarah Palin: an ethical Republican.
She ran against the incumbent Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2006, and won. Murkowski was so unpopular, he actually came in third. Palin then went on to defeat former Governor and Anchorage Mayor Tony Knowles. I didn't vote for her, but given her professed ethical standards, was willing to give her the chance to prove me wrong.
One of the first things she did was put the jet up for sale on eBay. Now, you may have heard John McCain say today that she "sold it on eBay... at a profit." That's not true. It did not sell on eBay, even after 3 tries there were no bids above the minimum amount. We ended up selling the jet through a broker, at a loss. But as the jet was a sore spot with Alaskans, we loved her for getting rid of it.
She did dismiss her personal chef, claiming it was an extravagance that she didn't need. Another popular move.
She worked with the legislature to come up with something called the Alaska Gas Inducement Act (AGIA), designed to solicit competitive bids to build the gas pipeline. In that sense yes, she did stand up to "Big Oil." After several state legislators had been indicted for taking bribes to keep oil revenue taxes low, she threw the existing law out the window and the legislature ended up raising those taxes a few percent, boosting state revenues. All of those legislators who have gone to trial have been convicted, by the way. Ted Stevens (mentioned earlier) has been indicted in connection with the same oil services company that bribed the other guys. Oh, Alaska politics is fun, you betcha.
Up until this point, I would have to say that I didn't have any serious complaints about her performance as Governor. That ended when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was considering adding polar bears to the Endangered Species List. Unless you've been in a coma for the past few years, you know that climate change has had a profound impact on sea ice, the primary habitat for polar bears. Every major climate model predicts that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer sometime during this century. The only real difference between the models is how soon it will happen. The bad news is that last summer was the greatest loss of arctic sea ice in recorded history, and that this summer may exceed 2007. Even worse is that these conditions are ahead of even the most pessimistic climate model. Yes, it's that bad.
The Palin Administration opposed listing polar bears as a threatened species. They published op-ed pieces in the local newspaper that, quite frankly, insulted our intelligence. Rather than deal in the science and biology of the issue, the focus was on the potential impact of the polar bear listing on economic development in Alaska. The opposition consisted of a series of specious arguments including, I kid you not, that once all the sea ice was gone, "polar bears would evolve to become land bears." Never mind the fact that there is already a land bear that occupies that ecological niche in Alaska. The polar bear has since become listed, and the State of Alaska has filed a lawsuit against the federal government to overturn that decision. This was the first major issue that caused me to part ways with Governor Palin.
Another incident which you may have heard about has come to be known as "Troopergate." Palin had appointed former Anchorage Chief of Police Walter Monegan to be the head of her public safety division. A division that includes the State Troopers. Then abruptly and without warning or cause, she fired him a few months ago. She initially claimed that she simply wanted a new direction for the public safety commission, but an alternate motive soon became known. Palin's sister was going through nasty divorce and custody proceedings with a State Trooper, and we learned that she may have canned Monegan because he refused to fire that Trooper, Palin's brother-in-law. She immediately denied any wrongdoing, and the State Legislature has started an investigation which she agreed to cooperate with. Shortly thereafter, it came out that one of her staffers had been recorded pressuring Monegan over the telephone. That guy has been put on paid leave until the investigation is completed.
Fast-forward to August 29, 2008, when John McCain announced that Sarah Palin was his pick for vice-president on the Republican ticket. It was big, no HUGE news here in Alaska. But all the attention and scrutiny dragged up Troopergate, as well as a lot of other stuff. As for her recent pregnancy and the birth of her fifth child, and her 17-year old daughters unwed pregnancy, I won't comment on them as they are family matters unrelated to her conduct in office. But now she has changed her mind about cooperating with the investigation. She has hired a personal lawyer, who is trying to stop or at least stall the investigation so that the results do not come out until after the November 4 election. They have also tried to stop other witnesses from testifying, and today the legislature has said that they will issue subpoenas to compel their testimony. For someone with nothing to hide, they are trying awfully hard to keep us from getting to the truth. And it was just discovered that they inappropriately accessed that Trooper's personnel file, and the union has filed an ethics complaint.
The thing that disappoints me the most though, is that she has shed her mantle as an "ethical Republican" if there ever was such a thing. She has leaped head-first into the cesspool of Karl Rove fear-and-smear politics, and is just wallowing in it. She has told repeated lies in the past week and during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. She didn't turn down the money for the "Bridge to Nowhere," she welcomed it. And after it became politically unpopular, she decided not to go forward with the project, but the State of Alaska kept the money. Yet she keeps repeating that she said "Thanks, but no thanks." That simply is not true, and even though this point has been thoroughly debunked in the media, she continues to lie about it. As Mayor of Wasilla, she called the local librarian to inquire about banning books that she contained language she didn't like. We don't have a state sales tax, but many communities have a local sales tax, as their populations are too small to raise enough revenue through property taxes alone. She raised the sales tax in Wasilla, and still left office with a huge debt. And most troubling of all, as someone who campaigned under the banner of "Open Government," she will not meet with the media to answer any questions about these and a host of other issues. If she can't stand up to Larry King, how in the world can she stand up to Vladimir Putin, one might ask.
It will come as no surprise to you that I support Barack Obama for President. On issue after issue, ranging from the Iraq War to tax policy, he has shown superior judgement. Don't be fooled into believing that John McCain is a "Maverick." He may have been 8 years ago, but since that time, he has sold out his principles and been joined at the hip to George Bush and his disastrous policies that have ruined our economy, lowered the average incomes of middle-class families, overstretched our military, and put our credibility around the world in the toilet. Howard Dean said it best: "The John McCain of 2000 wouldn't vote for the John McCain of today." If you're one of the 26% who think George Bush is doing a good job, and the country is heading in the right direction, then all I can say is "wow." John McCain is your guy. But if you're like me, and think that we need change in Washington, then Barack Obama is the only candidate who offers the hope we need right now. And if you're on the fence between Obama and McCain, please don't let Sarah Palin sway you in that direction.
I have tried to give you my honest, unbiased opinion about Governor Sarah Palin that includes both the good and the bad. In the end though, I have to say that she is not qualified to be vice president, and the thought of her in office, literally just a heartbeat from being the de facto leader of the free world, gives me the heebie-jeebies something fierce. She may be the darling of the conservative movement, but she is completely unqualified for the job. She doesn't believe in climate change, which is one of the most important issues facing our country and the whole world in the coming years, in my opinion. She doesn't believe in science, and would like to see creationism taught in schools. How can we hope to compete with China, India, and the rest of the world if we don't raise our children with a solid educational foundation? She believes that the Iraq War is a "task from God" which is just, for lack of a better word, nuts.
So after the excitement wears off, and we've all enjoyed a nice, tasty mooseburger, think about it. Former mayor of a small town in Alaska (population 7,000). Governor of the geographically largest, but one of the least populated states in the country, for less than 2 years. Has rarely travelled abroad. Has no foreign policy experience. No national security experience. Potential Vice President to a man who just turned 72 years old, and is a cancer survivor. If that doesn't scare the poop out of you, then you my friend have a mighty strong sphincter.
But don't take my word for all this. Use "the Google" and look this stuff up. Read what other Alaskans are saying about her. Don't take anything anyone says at face value, because she has shown (me, anyway) that she will say anything to satisfy her own personal ambition. And as she continues to duck the hard questions from the media, remember that she's ducking the hard questions from you, too.