“I applaud John McCain’s selection of Governor Palin. She is a young and dynamic leader who has earned a reputation as a reformer by taking on the establishment, and will help Senator McCain bring true change and reform to Washington. Unlike Senators Obama or Biden she has the executive experience which Granite Staters value, as both a highly popular Governor and Mayor. Like most in New Hampshire I am excited about the McCain-Palin ticket and look forward to their leadership of our country.”
The Most Popular Governor
Alaska ’s Sarah Palin is the GOP’s newest star.
by Fred Barnes
07/16/2007, Volume 012, Issue 41
Juneau -- The wipeout in the 2006 election left Republicans in such a state of dejection that they've overlooked the one shining victory in which a Republican star was born. The triumph came in Alaska where Sarah Palin, a politician of eye-popping integrity, was elected governor. She is now the most popular governor in America, with an approval rating in the 90s, and probably the most popular public official in any state.
Her rise is a great (and rare) story of how adherence to principle--especially to transparency and accountability in government--can produce political success. And by the way, Palin is a conservative who only last month vetoed 13 percent of the state's proposed budget for capital projects. The cuts, the Anchorage Daily News said, “maybe the biggest single-year line-item veto total in state history.”
As recently as last year, Palin(pronounced pale-in) was a political outcast. She resigned in January 2004 as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission after complaining to the office of Governor Frank Murkowski and to state Attorney General Gregg Renkes about ethical violations by another commissioner, Randy Ruedrich, who was also Republican state chairman.
State law barred Palin from speaking out publicly about ethical violations and corruption. But she was vindicated later in 2004 when Ruedrich, who'd been reconfirmed as state chairman, agreed to pay a $12,000 fine for breaking state ethics laws. She became a hero in the eyes of the public and the press, and the bane of Republican leaders.
In 2005, she continued to take on the Republican establishment by joining Eric Croft, a Democrat, in lodging an ethics complaint against Renkes, who was not only attorney general but also along-time adviser and campaign manager for Murkowski. The governor reprimanded Renkes and said the case was closed. It wasn't. Renkes resigned a few weeks later, and Palin was again hailed as a hero.
Palin, 43, the mother of four, passed up a chance to challenge Republican senator Lisa Murkowski, the then-governor's daughter, in 2004. She endorsed another candidate in the primary, but Murkowski won and was reelected. Palin said then that her 14-year-old son talked her out of running, though it's doubtful that was the sole reason.
In 2006, she didn’t hesitate. She ran against Gov. Murkowski, who was seeking a second term despite sagging poll ratings, in the Republican primary. In a three-way race, Palin captured 51percent and won in a landslide. She defeated former Democratic governor Tony Knowles in the general election, 49 percent to 41 percent. She was one of the few Republicans anywhere in the country to perform above expectations in 2006,an overwhelmingly Democratic year. Palin is unabashedly pro life.
With her emphasis on ethics and openness in government, "it turned out Palin caught the temper of the times perfectly," wrote Tom Kizzia of the Anchorage Daily News. She was also lucky. News broke of an FBI investigation of corruption by legislators between the primary and general elections. So far, three legislators have been indicted.
In the roughly three years since she quit as the state's chief regulator of the oil industry, Palin has crushed the Republican hierarchy (virtually all male) and nearly every other foe or critic. Political analysts in Alaska refer to the "body count" of Palin's rivals. "The landscape is littered with the bodies of those who crossed Sarah," says pollster Dave Dittman, who worked for her gubernatorial campaign. It includes Ruedrich, Renkes, Murkowski, gubernatorial contenders John Binkley and Andrew Halcro, the three big oil companies in Alaska, and a section of the Daily News called "Voice of the Times," which was highly critical of Palin and is now defunct.
One of her first acts as governor was to fire the Alaska Board of Agriculture. Her ultimate target was the state Creamery Board, which has been marketing the products of Alaska dairy farmers for 71 years and wanted to close down after receiving $600,000 from the state. "You don't just close your doors and walk away," Palin told me. She discovered she lacked the power to fire the Creamery Board. Only the board of agriculture had that authority. So Palin replaced the agriculture board, which appointed a new creamery board, which has rescinded the plan to shut down.
In preserving support for dairy farmers, Palin exhibited a kind of Alaskan chauvinism. She came to the state as an infant, making her practically a native. And she is eager to keep Alaska free from domination by oil companies or from reliance on cruise lines whose ships bring thousands of tourists to the state.
"She's as Alaskan as you can get," says Dan Fagan, an Anchorage radio talk show host. "She's a hockey mom, she lives on a lake, she ice fishes, she snowmobiles, she hunts, she's an NRA member, she has a float plane, and her husband works for BP on the North Slope, "Fagan says. Todd Palin, her high school sweetheart, is a three-time winner of the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmobile race from Wasilla to Nome to Fairbanks. It's the world's longest snowmobile race.
Gov. Palin grew up in Wasilla, where as star of her high school basketball team she got the nickname "Sarah Barracuda" for her fierce competitiveness. She led her underdog team to the state basketball championship. Palin also won the Miss Wasilla beauty contest, in which she was named Miss Congeniality, and went on to compete in the Miss Alaska pageant.
At 32, she was elected mayor of Wasilla, a burgeoning bedroom community outside Anchorage. Though Alaskans tend to be ferociously anti-tax, she persuaded Wasilla voters to increase the local sales tax to pay for an indoor arena and convention center. The tax referendum won by 20 votes.
In 2002, Palin entered statewide politics, running for lieutenant governor. She finished a strong second in the Republican primary. That fall, she dutifully campaigned for Murkowski, who'd given up his Senate seat to run for governor. Afterwards, she turned down several job offer from Murkowski, finally accepting the oil and gas post. When she quit 11 months later, "that was her defining moment" in politics, says Fagan.
Her campaign for governor was bumpy. She missed enough campaign appearances to be tagged "No Show Sarah" by her opponents. She was criticized for being vague on issues. But she sold voters on the one product that mattered: herself.
Her Christian faith--Palin grew up attending nondenominational Bible churches--was a minor issue in the race. She told me her faith affects her politics this way: "I believe everything happens for a purpose. In my own personal life, if I dedicated back to my Creator what I'm trying to create for the good . . . everything will turn out fine." That same concept applies to her political career, she suggested.
The biggest issue in the campaign was the proposed natural gas pipeline from the North Slope that's crucial to the state's economy. Murkowski had made a deal with the three big oil companies--Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips--which own the gas reserves to build the pipeline. But the legislature turned it down and Palin promised to create competition for the pipeline contract.
She made three other promises: to end corruption in state government, cut spending, and provide accountability. She's now redeeming those promises.
Palin describes herself as "pro-business and pro-development." She doesn't want the oil companies to sit on their energy reserves or environmental groups to block development of the state's resources. "I get frustrated with folks from outside Alaska who come up and say you shouldn't develop your resources," she says. Alaska needs to be self-sufficient, she says, instead of relying heavily on "federal dollars," as the state does today.
Her first major achievement as governor was lopsided passage by the legislature of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which is designed to attract pipeline proposals this summer. The state is offering $500 million in incentives, but the developer must meet strict requirements. The oil companies have said they won't join the competition.
Palin's tough spending cuts drew criticism from Republican legislators whose pet projects were vetoed. But her popularity doesn't appear threatened. "It's not just that she's pretty and young," says Dittman. ‘She's really smart. And there's no guile. She says her favorite meal is moose stew or moose burgers. It wouldn't shock people if that were true.”
Alaska governor balances newborn's needs, official duties
By Steve Quinn, Associated Press Writer
JUNEAU , Alaska — The results of Gov. Sarah Palin’s prenatal testing were in, but the doctor's tone was ominous: “You need to come to the office so we can talk about it.”
Palin, known for a resolve that quickly launched her from suburban hockey mom to a player on the national political stage, said “No, go ahead and tell me over the phone.”
The physician replied “Down syndrome,” stunning the Republican governor who had just completed what many political analysts called a startling first year in office.
She had arrived at the Capitol on an ethics reform platform after defeating the incumbent Republican in the primary and a former two-term Democratic governor in the general election. Her growing reputation as a maverick for bucking her party’s establishment and Alaska's powerful oil industry quickly gained her a national reputation.
Now she said she is trying to balance caring for her special needs child and running the nation's largest state.
The doctor's announcement in December, when Palin was four months pregnant, presented her with a possible life- and career-changing development.
“I've never had problems with my other pregnancies, so I was shocked,” said Palin, a mother of four other children.
"It took a while to open up the book that the doctor gave me about children with Down syndrome, and a while to logon to the Web site and start reading facts about the situation."
The 44-year-old governor waited a few days before telling her husband Todd, who was out of town, so she could understand what was ahead for them.
Once her husband got the news, he told her: “We shouldn't be asking ‘Why us?’ We should be saying ‘Well, why not us?’”
There was never any doubt the Palins woul have the child, and on April 18 she gave birth to Trig Paxon Van Palin.
"We've both been very vocal about being pro life," Palin said. "We understand that every innocent life has wonderful potential."
Down syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome in the fetus' cells. It's a genetic abnormality that impedes physical, intellectual and language development.
The mother's age is a large factor in the chances of having a Down child. Once a woman turns 40, the chances of having a Down child is 1 out of 100, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
During her first year in office, Palin distanced herself from the old guard, powerful Republicans in the state GOP, even calling on tightlipped, veteran U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens to explain to Alaskans why he was being investigated by federal authorities.
She asked Alaska's congressional delegation to be more selective in seeking earmarks after Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" became a national symbol of piggish pork-barrel spending.
She stood up to the powerful oil industry, and with bipartisan support in the statehouse she won a tax increase on oil companies' profits.
She also found time to pose for fashion magazine Vogue while she was pregnant, and she has been mentioned among potential vice presidential running mates for John McCain.
Three days after giving birth, Palin returned to work in her Anchorage office, accompanied by Trig and her husband.
This was not a mother's typical visit to the office to show off the new baby; instead, she was serving notice that a child of special needs will not hinder her professional commitments.
"It's a sign of the times to be able to do this," she said. "I can think of so many male candidates who watched a families grow while they were in office.
"There is no reason to believe a woman can't do it with a growing family. My baby will not be at all or in any sense neglected."
Neither, Palin said, will the state, as she prepares to lead deliberations for a multibillion-dollar natural gaspipeline. That's the economic future of the state, a means of getting North Slope natural gas to consumers throughout North America.
"I will not shirk my duties," she said.
Other politicians have pressed forward with their careers despite jarring personal news.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards continued with his campaign despite the return of his wife Elizabeth's breast cancer, though he eventually dropped out.
Another elected official who has a child with Down syndrome said Palin will likely have detractors, but that shouldn't change ambitions for the mother or child.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, D-Wash., has just celebrated the first birthday of her son Cole, her first child, who was born with Down syndrome. She is busy campaigning for a third term, and Cole often travels with her between Washington, D.C., and the Pacific Northwest.
"Cole opened my eyes to the pain and trouble a lot of families endure," Rodgers said. "He's allowed me to see people and circumstance more deeply, and the generosity of people.
"It's in human nature to focus on the negative, on what the person can't do. In our mind, we are focused on what he can do, what he will be able to do and do very well."
It's not unlike how Palin sees her child.
"I'm looking at him right now, and I see perfection," Palin said. "Yeah, he has an extra chromosome. I keep thinking, in our world, what is normal and what is perfect?"