Friday, August 11, 2006

Sarah Palin Stakes Out Firm Claim As Republicans' "Big Tent" Candidate

Tacked up prominently on a wall in Sarah Palin's downtown campaign headquarters is a newspaper clipping with a picture of two signs beside the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
The first one reads, "Canada my ass, it's Alaska's gas." Underneath it, the second sign says, "Sarah Palin."

That defiant message strikes just the right tone for Palin's gubernatorial campaign. She's cast herself as a Republican maverick, a party iconoclast battling for the nomination after battling for so long against its leaders. Full story in the August 11th, 2006 edition of the Anchorage Daily News.

Palin (pictured at left) began her political career with two terms on the Wasilla City Council, followed by two terms as its mayor starting in 1996. Initially, the "old guard" resisted her ideas, and the incumbent police chief became openly insubordinate. Palin immediately showed herself to be decisive by dropping the axe on him straightaway and hiring Charlie Fannon as the replacement. Palin lowered the property tax mill levy and eliminated personal property taxes, small business inventory taxes and business license renewal fees, attracting new industry and fueling economic growth. This resultant influx of new families and businesses tripled the city's sales tax revenue. In addition, the responsibility of managing dozens of employees including a growing police department and public works department, and overseeing the multimillion dollar capital and operating budgets of the then-fastest growing city in Alaska provided her with hands-on, 21st Century-relevant administrative experience.

In 2002, with her second mayoral term coming to a close, she ran for lieutenant governor, finishing a close second behind Loren Leman in a five-way race in the Republican primary. Leman went on to become lieutenant governor. Governor Murkowski, in an attempt to unify his adminstration and as a acknowledgement of gratitude for Palin's support, subsequently named her to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC).

As a commissioner, Sarah Palin continued to build public awareness and respect when in 2004, as chairwoman, she exposed fellow commissioner and Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich's ethical violations. Not only did Ruedrich admit to leaking a confidential memo to an energy company lobbyist, but it has been said that he virtually ran the state Republican Party out of his commissioner's office, conducting partisan political business on public time and using public resources. As a result of these activities, Ruedrich was fined $12,000, the largest civil fine ever administered in the state for an ethics case.

Then in 2005, Palin teamed up with Eric Croft, a Democratic legislator and gubernatorial candidate, to file an ethics complaint against Gov. Frank Murkowski's longtime aide and then attorney general, Gregg Renkes for alleged "conflict of interest" violations. Renkes held a personal financial interest in a company that stood to benefit from an international coal deal he and Murkowski were putting together. Even after Governor Murkowski issued Renkes a letter of reprimand and declared the case closed, Palin and Croft continued to press their case until Renkes resigned in order to spare his family further personal attacks.

However, while Renkes is long gone, Murkowski and Ruedrich remain. The first is an incumbent governor seeking re-election. The second is still the party's chief. To win the Republican nomination on August 22nd, Palin must go through both of them. Consequently, Sarah Palin has staked a claim as the unofficial leader of a growing "integrity caucus". She seeks to represent Republicans who want change from that party hierarchy and claims there are enough of them out there to carry her to November's general election. "Our support is such a diverse mix of Alaskans, and they are those who wouldn't have supported Murkowski anyway," Palin told The Associated Press recently. She said she also expects good turnout August 22nd from nonpartisan and undeclared voters who can vote in the Republican primary. The Rasmussen, Craciun, and Ivan Moore polls all support this claim, showing Palin with a commanding lead over major competitors John Binkley and Frank Murkowski. Only the two Hellenthal polls, bought and paid for by John Binkley, show different results (Binkley leads in both Hellenthal polls).

Speaking of Binkley, Palin told the Anchorage Daily News he is cut from the same cloth as the governor. "When you consider who Binkley has surrounding him, those are Frank's people," Palin said. "Those folks were on board with Murkowski until they saw the writing on the wall. Then they jumped on board with Binkley."

The main knock on Palin by her opponents is her lack of experience. Besides the AOGCC chairmanship, the 42-year-old Palin's public-office resume consists of being a former two-term Wasilla mayor and a city councilwoman, although her unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2002 exposed her to the rigors of a statewide campaign for the first time. However, either of the two Republican lieutenant governor candidates, Sean Parnell and Jerry Ward, would effectively compensate for that deficiency; both are former state senators who understand the legislative process. Parnell, with a less controversial past, might be a better choice.

The closest this campaign season has come to a scandal involved Palin. The Voice of the Times, the last remnant of the defunct Anchorage Times newspaper, published an article by VECO propagandist Paul Jenkins claiming that Palin had used her Wasilla mayor's office computer for her lieutenant governor's campaign. Palin dismissed the article as a failed attempt to dig up dirt on her.


When it comes to the main issue driving this year's election season, building a North Slope natural gas pipeline, Palin has been a vocal supporter of a competing proposal to Murkowski's producer-led project to Canada. She has appeared in television ads for a project by the Alaska Gasline Port Authority that would parallel the trans-Alaska pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez, where the gas would be liquefied and shipped to the West Coast on tankers (Binkley has the same idea but would terminate the line at Kenai instead of Valdez in order to spread the wealth and diversify the economy).

It's a project popular with Alaskans, particularly those living in towns along the highway route. But Murkowski says it's not viable, and legislators almost gleefully poked holes in the proposal when Port Authority officials recently presented it in the Capitol. The proposal has no gas commitments from the leaseholders or firm buyers of the gas, tariffs would run about twice as high as the Canadian line and it might prevent a Canadian line from ever being built, lawmakers concluded.

Palin insists the problems can be worked out and a Canadian line can be built later, after the Valdez line. "LNG is the wave of the future," she told the Anchorage Daily News. "They're going to get it from somewhere. I would love for them to get it from Alaska."

One of her most influential backers is former Gov. Wally Hickel, another Republican maverick who won his second gubernatorial term as the Alaskan Independence Party candidate. Hickel is right in sync with Palin on the pipeline proposal. "She understands common people," Hickel said at a Palin fundraiser in July. "I've watched politics in this state for years, obviously, and we're an
owner state so different than any other country or state in the union. So we need a governor that really understands that."
In contrast, four former Anchorage mayors (George Sullivan, Tom Fink, George Wuerch, and Rick Mystrom, pictured at left, courtesy of Binkley's website) have all endorsed Binkley.

Palin also picked up a valuable endorsement from the Teamsters Union Local 959. The endorsement is only for the Republican primary and not necessarily for the general election. The Teamsters are held in higher regard than most unions because they recently disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO, which is widely perceived to have become little more than an ATM for the national Democratic Party. The Teamsters are tough but fair; they have no desire to bankrupt management in order to get a square deal for labor.

See Sarah Palin's official campaign website for more information about her campaign. Special Note To Alaskan Readers: The Alaska primary election takes place on Tuesday August 22nd, 2006. If you're not sure where to vote, visit the Alaska Division of Elections website for guidance.

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