This thread is posted in it’s entirety with the written permission of the author, Melinda Donahey.
Some “Little Facts” About Sarah Palin
By Melinda Donahey
The American public has less than 60 days to judge Sarah Palin’s fitness for high office, dangerous risk-taking indeed when as vice-president she would be next in line to a 72-year-old man who has had bouts with melanoma, whose father and grandfather both died younger than he is now, and who, as a former prisoner-of-war, confronts the likelihood of a shorter-than-average lifespan.
Palin has been kept under extremely tight wraps since her nomination. Reporters can’t ask her questions directly, and she never appears on the campaign trail unless accompanied by John McCain or delivers a speech that isn’t written for her.
Though Palin is a virtual stranger to most Americans, McCain campaign aide Rick Davis is indifferent to the public’s right to know anything unscripted about her policy views, stating “We’re going to do what’s in our best interests to try to win the election.” Apparently, the best interests of the electorate don’t figure into the equation.
Press reports about Palin pour forth, but no one has put all the information together in a coherent whole, as this article attempts to do.
Meanwhile, the McCain campaign complains loudly that Palin has been maligned by the media in a sexist manner, and should be judged by the same standard as male politicians seeking the highest offices in the land. Fair enough.
Let’s see exactly how well she’s actually performed as mayor and governor of Alaska. And since she seeks a position with awesome responsibility in the most diverse, complex, multi-faceted superpower in history, a country with over 300 million citizens–let’s see how the size and complexity of her previous responsibilities compare to the job she seeks.
Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska
Sarah Palin served six years on the part-time city council of her home town of Wasilla and two terms as mayor, from 1996 to 2002, elected in her first race by a miniscule 616 votes to 413 votes. The town’s government at that time employed 53 people and had a budget of $6 million. In fact, the local WalMart employed four times as many people as the town did.
When Palin was questioned by a local reporter who wanted to know how she could govern after she had dismissed nearly all the key people in the town government when she took office, she replied, “It’s not rocket science.” In fact, Wasilla’s population today, after solid growth, is still only ONE PERCENT of Alaska’s total population. The last town budget she approved was 0.2 percent of the state’s budget.
Press coverage and private accounts show that Mayor Palin liked to throw her weight around, while her management of the town left a lot to be desired.
Ten Years of Litigation
So her son could play hockey, Palin pushed for a $15 million sports complex in Wasilla. But her administration dragged its feet for months on purchasing the parcel of land the town wanted to build on from The Nature Conservancy, which owned it. So a Fairbanks investor bought the land instead. The town sued, claiming they had a handshake deal, and Palin pushed through a sales tax increase and a $14.7 million bond issue to finance the project. Believing they would win their suit, Palin’s administration began to construct roads and install utilities.
But the federal court judge ruled that the property belonged to its purchaser because the town never signed the papers. After Palin left the mayor’s office, the town tried to take the land through eminent domain, but were ordered by an arbitrator to pay $836,000 for property Palin could have purchased for $126,000; and they had to pay $336,000 in interest. The land owner has appealed, asking for hundreds of thousands more. Wasilla’s own legal bill has come to $250,000 to date; the entire process has taken 10 years, and is still not concluded. Meanwhile the sports complex, built by an ally of Palin’s, has not proven to be the money-making enterprise she promised, and the town is paying for it with higher taxes and service cutbacks.
During Palin’s tenure, Wasilla High School began to decline due to loss of funds, losing teachers and dropping AP classes. The school was named in a Johns Hopkins University study, conducted from 2004 to 2006, as a “dropout factory.” The criterion was that 60 percent or fewer of the entering freshmen survived to graduate as seniors.
In late July of this year, Palin’s Wasilla administrative assistant admitted that she was directed by the mayor to perform campaign tasks on government time, including having thank-you notes to Palin’s supporters printed up and scheduling Palin’s campaign travel.
After taking office, Palin quizzed the town’s librarian on three separate occasions whether she would accept the banning of books, though her question was answered in the negative the very first time it was asked. She fired the librarian a short time later, giving the vaguest of reasons. (The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, was rehired, according to some accounts after townspeople expressed outrage.)
Palin also ordered town department heads not to speak to reporters. Victoria Naegele, former managing editor of the area’s newspaper, The Frontiersman, refers to Palin’s tenure as “a strange time.” Remembering Palin’s attempted muzzling of town employees, she says, “She put a gag order on those people, something you’d expect to find in the big city, not here…[the Frontiersman] came out very harshly against her.”
Palin forced the public works director, city planner, museum director, and many other key employees out when she decided they were not “loyal” to her, something that had never happened in Wasilla before. Some of those who were let go had introduced her to politics and mentored her.
The police chief, Irl Stambaugh, was fired. He believes one reason was that he had attempted to change bar closing times from 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. in order to curtail a run of drunk driving accidents, and Palin’s campaign donors, some of whom were bar owners, objected. He had also clashed with the National Rifle Association, of which she is a member, when he opposed a concealed-gun law they advocated.
Palin hired Charlie Fannon as police chief, and claimed it was one of the best decisions she’d made. During her term as Mayor, Fannon achieved notoriety by billing rape victims or their insurance companies for the cost of the victim’s medical exams. Then-Governor Tony Knowles signed legislation aimed directly at Wasilla to outlaw the practice. According to The Frontiersman, Fannon complained about the new law, saying that he “didn’t want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer.” (The uniform crime report for Wasilla (1985-2005) shows that the town averaged two rapes per year.)
Palin also terminated town employees when she left the mayor’s office, including John Cramer, the town administrator whom she had hired. Palin was pressured into hiring Cramer by Republican party honchos after her earlier mass firings led to a recall effort that had to be tamped down. The administrator thereafter did much of the real work in running the town. Nevertheless, Palin’s overall policies during her tenure resulted in one big, glaring change:
The town that Palin took over when she defeated former mayor John Stein had NO DEBT. When she relinquished the mayor’s office, Wasilla was $22 MILLION IN THE RED.
Queen of Earmarks
Whatever you may hear now from John McCain, as Mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin pursued federal funds relentlessly. She hired a lobbying/law firm cozy with notorious (and now indicted) pork-barreler Senator Ted Stevens to obtain $27 million in federal earmarks during her tenure. These included:
• $15 million for a railroad to connect Wasilla with the nearby ski resort of Girdwood;
• $900,000 for the town’s sewer system;
• $500,000 for a youth shelter;
• $1.9 million for a rail and bus realignment project;
• $1.75 million for additions to an emergency dispatch center;
• $600,000 to improve bus stations;
• $500,000 for a mental health center;
• $500,000 for the purchase of federal land; and
• $450,000 to rebuild an agricultural processing plant.
For the now-approximately 9,000 people of Wasilla, the earmarks amounted to more than $3000 apiece in YOUR TAX DOLLARS.
Governor of Alaska
As governor, Sarah Palin continued to grab for earmarks. In February of this year, Palin sent Senator Stevens a list of $250 million in earmark requests for Alaska. Combined with the amount requested for the previous year, Palin has, in less than two years in office, sought $750 million in federal money–YOUR TAX DOLLARS–for her state. The Wall Street Journal points out that this “is the largest per capita request in the nation.” A sample of the earmark requests: $495,000 for assessing the recreational halibut catch; $1 million to find out why recreational halibut fishermen catch rockfish by mistake; $2 million to study the mating habits of Bering Sea crabs.
John McCain must be well aware of Palin’s pork-barreling ways and the truth about her support for the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, because there’s plenty of evidence in the public record. Yet he continues to play fast and loose with the truth because her line “I told Congress ‘Thanks but no thanks’ plays so well on the campaign trail. Here’s the real truth:
Palin BACKED The Bridge to Nowhere
The bridge was intended to be built from the town of Ketchikan, population 14,000, to Gravina Island, population 50. When she was running for Governor in 2006, Palin campaigned for the bridge, displaying in a press photo a T-shirt that read “NOWHERE ALASKA” and “99901,” Ketchikan’s zip code. She said that “when proposals are on the table like the bridge” she would “not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that’s so negative.”
For obtaining the $223 million earmark for the bridge, she heaped glowing praise on “Representative Don Young, …God bless him… Alaska did so well under … the transportation act that he wrote just a couple of years ago. We had a nice bump there. We’re very, very fortunate to receive the largesse that Don Young was able to put together for Alaska.” (Young, 18-term Congressman and then chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is currently under criminal investigation for accepting bribes.)
When as Governor she was ultimately forced to kill the project in September, 2007, she released a statement that made it clear it was for budgetary reasons–Congress had turned against the bridge and removed the stipulated use of the funds. She made absolutely no mention of any personal aversion to pork:
“Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here.”
BUT SHE DIDN’T GIVE BACK THE MONEY! Instead, the Washington Post points out, “Some of it was used for other state projects, about $40 million was used to build an access road to the now-scrapped bridge project and $73 million is sitting in an account, awaiting some other proposal to link the tiny towns of Ketchikan and Gravina…”
The Plane That WASN’T Sold on eBay
Palin in her speech at the GOP convention congratulated herself on her money-saving ways as Governor: “…I got rid of a few things in the governor’s office that I didn’t believe our citizens should have to pay for. That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay.” It sounded like a clever gimmick and her great delivery had listeners chuckling. What she didn’t say is that the idea didn’t originate with her. At the time she took the oath of office, the state was already auctioning off 38 big-ticket items, including three airplanes, and it had been doing so for the preceding three years.
McCain, of course, picked up on the story and improved on it, saying, “You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet…and sold it on eBay — made a profit.” But NONE of this is true. The plane DIDN’T SELL on eBay and had to be brokered by a private firm, Turbo North Aviation (who took a $31,000 commission on it). And the plane ultimately sold at a $600,000 LOSS.
Even the characterization of the plane as a “luxury jet” is off the mark. While the plane certainly was used at times by former Governor Frank Murkowski, it saw major use in transporting Alaskan convicts to out-of-state prison facilities, because Alaska lacks sufficient prison space in-state.
The Pipeline That ISN’T Being Built
The McCain campaign has presented Palin as an expert on energy issues. In speaking to the Republican Convention, Palin crowed that “I fought to bring about the largest private-sector infrastructure project in North American history. And when that deal was struck, we began a nearly forty billion dollar natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence.”
Once again, totally not true! A company called TransCanada was awarded a state license under legislation Palin pushed. It is NOT a construction contract and NO CONSTRUCTION HAS BEGUN; it is a $500 million “inducement” to TransCanada to build a pipeline that the company’s CEO has already admitted his company can’t afford to build. At least not without the participation of Exxon and other major energy producers. Palin has been conducting a gigantic pissing match with the oil and gas companies and there is currently no communication between them. This may sound good to those who are angry about the high price of gas, but it guarantees the pipeline won’t be built.
“We broke their monopoly on power and resources”, Palin announced to the cheering convention crowd. The harsh reality is that the oil and gas companies have held critical hydrocarbon leases in Alaska for decades and thus they hold all the cards. Until the Palin administration negotiates with them to structure a deal that is sufficiently profitable for them, the pipeline is going nowhere, and the $500 million to TransCanada is just expensive smoke and mirrors.
Sarah Palin has used the per diem allowance intended to cover public officials’ travel to bill the state for 312 nights that she actually spent in her own home. Because the state capitol is in Juneau and Palin’s home is Wasilla, a distant suburb of Anchorage, Palin has chosen to shun the Governor’s mansion to work out of an office in Anchorage. The argument is thus made that she is “traveling on state business” when she’s at home in Wasilla rather than in the state capitol.
The governor’s family has also charged Alaska $43,490, largely for travel between Wasilla and Juneau. Among a plethora of trips around the state, Palin has charged for attending an NCAA college basketball tournament in Anchorage; a trip to the Iron Dog snowmobile competition that her husband won; and a trip to New York City with daughter Bristol that included a three-night sojourn in a $700-per night hotel room. She’s such a cost-cutter!
Palin’s office has tried to pass these travel expenses off as standard operating procedure. But Tony Knowles, who was governor of Alaska from 1994 to 2000, contradicted that assessment. “I gave a direction to all my commissioners if they were ever in their house, whether it was Juneau or elsewhere, they were not to get a per diem because, clearly, it is and it looks like a scam–you pay yourself to live at home.” And, he added, “…the policy was not to reimburse for family travel on commercial airlines, because there is no direct public benefit to schlepping kids around the state.”
Alaska’s National Guard
Much has been made by McCain’s spokespeople of Palin’s experience as head of Alaska’s National Guard. The Adjutant General of the Guard, which numbers a meager 3,800, is Major General Craig Campbell. Neither he nor Palin have any responsibilities when the Guard is federalized, which can occur in any situation involving national defense abroad or at home, or in major disasters outside or inside the state, nor is the governor even in the loop on those occasions. The only time when the governor could potentially take charge is when the Guard is used to provide smaller scale in-state relief or rescue services, and the Governor has left it entirely up to Campbell to make all such decisions.
The Alaska National Guard receives about 75 percent of its funding from the federal government. The Guard is currently appallingly under-staffed, at only 84 percent of its authorized strength, the worst in the nation. Its units constitute a mere .008 percent of the total of 468,000 National Guard troops. So it would seem obvious that the McCain campaign’s claim for the Alaska Guard as a credible training ground for Palin as commander-in-chief is simply ludicrous.
One small footnote: after General Campbell had spoken so frankly with the press about Sarah Palin’s lack of involvement in the operations of his tiny Guard contingent, he apparently experienced a change of heart and began publicly lauding her leadership. The metamorphosis occurred just three days before she promoted him to lieutenant general, one of only two state commanders at that rank in the current National Guard. But–the promotion only applies to him inside Alaska; in his federal rank, he remains a major general. No doubt anticipating the derision that would greet this promotion, the governor’s press release defends the decision with two preposterous statements:
1) “Palin took the opportunity to promote Campbell ahead of any pending emergency that may occur with the upcoming fall storm season.” 2) “The decision…is based on a fundamental states’-rights stance, for which Alaska has a strong historical position.” So we must conclude that General Campbell has to be a lieutenant general in case it’s rainy on the Pacific coast this year, and that Alaska plans to refight the Civil War.
In considering the claims made for Palin’s “executive experience” as governor over the past 20 months, it’s important to consider Alaska’s size. The state has an estimated population of 670,000. And that is:
• less than the population of 15 U.S. cities — including Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana;
• less than Chicago’s north suburban Lake County;
• about 12 percent of New York City’s population;
• equivalent to a large (but nowhere near the largest) protest demonstration on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The pro-choice March for Women’s Lives, April 25, 2004, is tops at 1,100,000;
• less than one full season’s attendance at Ohio State University football games (2003, eight games, 893,963).
In other words, the entire population of Alaska could fit on the Mall with room to spare or attend half a season’s games at the OSU stadium.
The McCain campaign makes much of Palin’s experience in managing Alaska’s $10 billion budget, but there’s really not much management involved. The state has a relatively primitive economy which differs from every other state in the country. And taxpayers in the other 49 states are paying for a lot of the minimal services Alaska provides to its tiny population.
The state has a $36 billion Permanent Fund and a $5 billion surplus, both made possible by sky-high oil revenues. Yet Alaska is literally on the dole, with ONE-THIRD of its economic base derived from federal money transferred to the state. Which leads you to wonder, why does the state need so much assistance? One reason is that Alaska asks little from its own citizens–it has NO state income tax and NO state sales tax.
Outside of oil and tourism, the state’s economy is built almost entirely on extractive industries like mining, logging, and fishing; there’s little manufacturing, not much international trade outside of seafood, and with such a small population (including almost no illegal immigrants), skimpy requirements for state services. (How well, do you suppose, does Palin understand the problems of a giant, multi-lingual, urban high school in Los Angeles or a badly stressed industrial workforce like that in Detroit?)
This summer, Palin chose to use nearly one billion of the state surplus to give every single Alaskan a $1,200 bonus–which probably accounts for her popularity in the state, despite the scandals that have engulfed her there. Remember the last politician to squander a surplus rather than saving it for future emergencies, repairs to infrastructure, or helping the needy. It was George Bush, who also “managed” to make the surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton disappear.
Yet even as she was planning the big giveaway, Palin was still looking for more federal handouts. In an article in the Juneau Empire in March of this year, John Katz, Palin’s Special Counsel, stated, “The governor is very much aware of the importance of the federal budget to virtually every Alaskan. In responding to the new realities [the extreme unpopularity of earmarks in Washington], we are not abandoning earmarks altogether… .”
Foreign Trade, Foreign Travel
Sarah Palin got her first passport in 2006 so that she could take her very first trip abroad visiting Alaska’s Guard troops in Kuwait, Iraq, and Germany in 2007. Despite her state’s large volume of international trade in seafood, she has shown no interest in the subject, though Tony Knowles, the former governor, had actively pursued trade pacts with Taiwan in the 1990s.
The McCain camp has blared the idea that Alaska’s mere proximity to Russia makes Palin an automatic foreign policy whiz, but Russ Howell, Director of the America Russia Center in Anchorage, just 45 miles from her home town of Wasilla, says, “We have had no contact with her about visiting Russian officials. There have been certain governors that have taken an interest in the Russian Far East, but I don’t see that happening under Governor Palin.”
And even though she bills herself as an oil and gas expert, she seems utterly disinterested in the very real opportunity for Alaskan oil-field companies to become involved in future gas exploration in eastern Russia.
Scandal and Investigation
Sarah Palin is currently being investigated by the state legislature. The McCain campaign has leaned heavily on the legislative leaders of both parties to try to prevent them from releasing their report before the election, and collaborated in an attempt to remove Hollis French, the state Senator heading the bipartisan committee conducting the investigation.
Thomas Van Flein, the high-priced private lawyer defending Palin, is attempting to delay the proceedings by disputing the jurisdiction of the legislature, and has prevented two key witnesses from being deposed. Palin herself has so far ducked the Special Counsel who is tasked with interviewing her, even though he has offered to fly to wherever she might be.
The investigation was prompted by Sarah Palin’s abrupt firing of Walt Monegan, the well-regarded chief of the Department of Public Safety because, constrained by due process and established disciplinary procedures for Alaska State Troopers, he could not summarily fire Palin’s trooper ex-brother-in-law at her request.
Palin’s new hire as chief, Chuck Kopp, turned out to have previously been reprimanded and transferred following sexual harassment charges by a female colleague. Forced to step down, Kopp received a $10,000 severance package for his two weeks employment. Monegan, on the other hand, was given no notice and no severance.
Meanwhile, the investigative file on Trooper Mike Wooten, Palin’s erstwhile in-law, now runs to 482 pages and many hours of taped interviews, all of it producing to date nothing more than four instances when Wooten violated policy or committed misdemeanors, resulting in a five-day suspension. The Senate investigation has detailed how Palin, her husband, family, and staff repeatedly confronted Monegan–more than two dozen contacts are alleged. After denying these occurred, Palin was tripped up by a tape recording of one of her aides pressuring a state police lieutenant on the Governor’s behalf. The aide, Frank Bailey, has now made his exit from state government as well.
The contortionist’s tactics of Palin’s lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, in attempting to sidetrack the investigation, are breathtaking. He seeks to take the investigation away from the legislature and hand it to the Personnel Board, a three-person body whose members were all appointed by none other than Palin herself! To try to bounce the investigation over to the board, he has actually had Palin SUE HERSELF as governor for ethics violations.
He’s also used the tactic of questioning Frank Bailey, Palin’s former aide, before he has been deposed by the investigating committee, thereby giving Palin a tremendous advantage–she knows what Bailey will say, and he cannot change his testimony without undermining his credibility or perhaps exposing himself to charges of perjury. Bailey, who is on administrative leave from state government while continuing to collect his sizable salary, used the “jurisdictional dispute” as an excuse to cancel out of his deposition with the Special Counsel. The investigating committee now plans to subpoena all key witnesses.
While Van Flein’s challenge to the legislature’s jurisdiction is, according to former Alaska Attorney General John Havelock, “not likely to be persuasive to a court” because “the investigative power of the legislature is plenary,” it makes for a great delaying tactic.
Meanwhile, Todd Palin, the governor’s spouse, has hired an attorney to represent him independently, since he is also implicated in the attempts to pressure for Trooper Wooten’s removal. And the Police Officers Union has filed an ethics complaint against Palin, charging that the governor’s office illegally obtained and then disclosed to others details from Wooten’s confidential personnel file.
A rather sad footnote to the whole mess: the judge hearing the rancorous divorce and custody case of Wooten and Palin’s sister Molly point-blank ordered Sarah Palin and her family to stop interfering in the matter. Judge John Suddock, concerned that the constant attacks on Trooper Wooten would alienate him from his young children, stated “Disparaging will not be tolerated.” At the time of the final divorce decree, issued in 2006, the judge continued to express concern, and threatened to award custody to the father if Wooten’s ex-wife did not reign in the Palins.
Sarah Palin and the Press
Palin has had a contentious relationship with nearly all of the Alaskan press corps, from Wasilla’s small-town paper, The Frontiersman, to the city papers of Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks. Gregg Erickson, a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, says that her approval rating among the journalists who cover her is probably in the “teens.” He also says that he has “a hard time seeing how her qualifications stack up against the duties and responsibilities of being President…” Dermot Cole, columnist for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, believes “in no way does her year-and-a-half as governor of Alaska qualify her to be vice president…”
Palin and Alaska’s Politicians
Her reputation is not that great among the politicians she’s worked with, either. Mike Doogan, a Democratic state legislator in Alaska, says, “If you held Palin’s political resume up to the light, you could see right through it.” He also refers to her as being “very, very competitive” and describes her attacking him “like I was a pork chop and she was a starving wolf” when he disagreed with her politically.
Lyda Green, the state Republican Senate president, says, “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?” John Harris, Republican Speaker of the House, when asked about her qualifications for high office, responded, “She’s old enough. She’s a U.S. citizen.”
State representative Les Gara, a Democrat, says, ” When it comes to the real work of crafting policy she’s often not there. I don’t know if she’s disinterested in details or not comfortable with them, but the bottom line is: She is not truly a hands-on governor.”
“The more the New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there’s a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she’s new, she’s popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent. As long as those are out there, THESE LITTLE FACTS DON’T REALLY MATTER.” — John Feehery, Republican campaign strategist
“We have created a system where there is not a lot of shame in stretching the truth.” –Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.