Palin’s Past is Target-Rich

The Alaska governor has a problem with the truth and with controlling her vindictive streak.

By Jim Cullen

Sarah Palin proved she can read a speech as she stole the show at the Republican National Convention on Sept. 3, but the former TV sports reporter, known as “The Barracuda” for aggressive play as a high school basketball player in Wasilla, Alaska, still hasn’t shown she can face grilling from the press. But even without getting into some of the controversies about her personal life, there is plenty to question about her official record in Alaska.

John McCain’s selection of Palin on Aug. 29, the morning after Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, sent reporters scurrying for details on the first-term governor, who apparently was well-known in evangelical and right-wing circles but otherwise was little-known outside Alaska.

Even the home folks were stunned. State Senate President Lyda Green, a Republican from Wasilla, was incredulous: “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?”

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorialized, “ She has never publicly demonstrated the kind of interest, much less expertise, in federal issues and foreign affairs that should mark a candidate for the second-highest office in the land. ... Most people would acknowledge that, regardless of her charm and good intentions, Palin is not ready for the top job. McCain seems to have put his political interests ahead of the nation’s when he created the possibility that she might fill it.”

Palin apparently got her start running a church-oriented campaign for mayor of Wasilla, a suburb of Anchorage, which had a population of approximately 6,000 in 1996. She blind-sided her opponent with a campaign based on abortion, gun rights and other Republican social issues as well as fiscal conservatism. One of her first acts in office was to demand the resignation of city department heads. Among those she fired was the longtime police chief and the librarian who balked at banning books Palin objected to. Palin later reinstated the librarian after community protests.

Palin also was criticized for cronyism, replacing Wasilla’s former city attorney with an Anchorage lawyer who also served as general counsel for the state Republican Party, which had helped her in what was supposed to be a non-partisan election. She also hired a public works director at $55,000 a year despite a lack of engineering training or experience.

She has had a contentious relationship with the local newspaper, the Wasilla Frontiersman, which questioned the expansion of city bureaucracy in a March 7, 1997, editorial. “We still don’t understand how someone can be claiming to keep her campaign promises when she pooh-poohed the complexities of city government, then hired a deputy city administrator to help her.”

Palin also was proud to solicit earmarked appropriations when she was mayor of Wasilla. She hired Steven Silver, a former aide to Sen. Ted Stevens with ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, to lobby for the city. The Los Angeles Times on Sept. 3 noted that three times in recent years, McCain’s catalogs of “objectionable” spending included earmarks that Palin had requested. Wasilla received nearly $27 million in earmarks from 1996 to 2002. The results of this spending are very apparent today. (The town also benefited from $15 million in federal funds to promote regional rail transportation.)

Although she has repeatedly claimed she opposed the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which was proposed to link Ketchikan with an island with 50 residents, she endorsed the controversial project during her 2006 campaign for governor. And while she claims she said “No thanks” to the earmark, it was only after Congress canceled the project—but she still took the $223 million and spent it on other projects.

Alaska was the top pork-barrel recipient among states last year, reaping $346 million from the federal government, or $506.34 per capita.

This year Palin asked Congress for 31 projects worth $197.8 million, including $2 million to research crab productivity in the Bering Sea and $7.4 million to improve runway lighting at eight Alaska airports, the Times reported.

The Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, has been investigating allegations that she abused her power when she fired the public safety commissioner after he refused to fire her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, Mike Wooten, who was involved in an ugly custody battle with Palin’s sister. State Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan was fired in July 2008. When Palin denied that she had pressured Monegan to fire the trooper, he produced tapes and emails from her, her aides and her husband, Todd, who apparently plays a considerable role in running her office.

Although the McCain campaign claims it vetted Palin before her selection, few people in Alaska reportedly heard from McCain’s campaign before the selection was announced. Later, a battalion of Republican lawyers was sent to Alaska to plug the leaks.

One of the first plugs was in the Legislature’s investigation of Gov. Palin’s alleged abuse of power, which was supposed to result in a report in October. But a star witness, Frank Bailey, an aide to the governor, suddenly decided not to testify, despite a previous agreement to do so. Bailey was caught on tape in August 2008 on a phone call with another trooper in which he questioned why Wooten was still on the staff. Release of the tape forced Palin to backtrack on her earlier statements, in which she maintained that neither she nor her family nor staff ever pressured Monegan or anyone else to fire Wooten.

Since becoming McCain’s running mate, Palin, who also had agreed to cooperate with the investigation, has “lawyered up” and challenged the Legislature’s authority to investigate her. Bailey cited that jurisdictional uncertainty as his reason for not testifying, but John Havelock, a former Alaska attorney general, told (Sept. 4), “The investigative power of the legislature is plenary.” In other words, the Alaska legislature can investigate whatever it likes.

Palin also bills herself as a reformer, but she was a protégé of now-indicted Sen. Ted Stevens, the state’s senior Republican senator, who was indicted in July on federal charges relating to work done on his house by an oil contractor. Palin’s name was listed on 2003 incorporation papers of the “Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service,” a “527” political group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors and served as “a political boot camp for Republican women in the state,” Matthew Mosk reported at (Sept. 1). Stevens’ endorsement in 2006 helped her win the governor’s race.

Palin as recently as July told a journalist that she had no idea what the vice president does.

Palin was has been associated with a group that wants Alaska to secede from the US. Lynette Clark, chairman of the Alaska Independence Party, told ABC News on Sept. 1 that Palin and her husband Todd were members in 1994, attending the statewide convention that year. After state election officials said Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, Clark told ABC News she had been mistaken about the governor. But state records show Todd Palin was a member of the party until 2002. The party challenges the legality of the Alaskan statehood vote and claims it violated the UN Charter and international law.

Jake Tapper of ABC News noted that earlier this year, when Palin sent a video message to the AIP for its annual convention, AIP Vice Chair George Clark told the small crowd that Palin “was an AIP member before she got the job as mayor of a small town ...”

Also, Palin does not think global warming is man-made. In an interview with Newsmax (8/29), Palin, asked for her “take on global warming and how is it affecting our country,” replied, “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location.” She added, “I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.” noted (Aug. 29) that NASA and the National Academy of Sciences disagree.

Video has surfaced of Palin at an Assembly of God church three months ago, claiming that American soldiers have been sent to Iraq “on a task that is from God.” The Wasilla Assembly of God, which she has attended for more than 20 years, has been connected with the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, which is raising a “Joel’s Army” to take dominion over the US and the world and rule it by fundamentalist Christian law, Bruce Wilson of, a blog on faith and politics, wrote at Sept. 8.

She also was in Wasilla Bible Church when the pulpit was turned over to David Brickner, the executive director of Jews for Jesus, a controversial ministry that tries to convert Jews to Christianity. Among other things, Brickner described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God’s “judgment of unbelief” of Jews who haven’t embraced Christianity. on Sept. 2 posted portions of Palin speaking at the Wasilla Assembly of God, in which she suggested that an Alaska pipeline plan reflects God’s will.

State Democrats compiled 63 pages on Palin’s record in 2006, when she ran for governor. (It is available at Among the points of interest:

Despite her campaigning on trust and transparency in government, the Anchorage Daily News reported (7/21/06) that in her unsuccessful 2002 campaign for lieutenant governor Palin used city employees, telephones, computers and fax machines for campaign fundraising and literature. On her candidate registration form, she used her City Hall fax number, and her mayoral e-mail address. Records show that Wasilla city property was used to contact supporters, donors, media contacts, and media purchasing. She also held campaign meetings and received campaign-related faxes at City Hall (ADN, 7/28/06). When questioned about her use of city resources in the 2002 campaign, she stated that accusations against her were a “smear” campaign organized by her “enemies,” the ADN reported (7/14/06).

City documents appeared to show that Palin arranged campaign travel from the mayor’s office and her city administrative assistant printed thank-you notes to campaign donors. The administrative assistant, Mary Bixby, told the Daily News in late July, 2006, that she was directed to perform those tasks while on the clock for the city. For any mistakes she made, Palin said, “I apologize.” [ADN, 8/18/06]

She also has a problem with the truth. The Wasilla Frontiersman reported (12/13/96) that Wasilla’s “Liquor Task Force was dissolved by Mayor Sarah Palin on Oct. 17 — three days after she took office.” When asked, Palin said she was not aware the group was not still meeting, but, according to the Frontiersman, the outreach coordinator said that “on Thursday, Oct. 17, Mug-Shot Saloon owner Ted Anderson informed the group the task force would not be meeting again … Wasilla Police Chief Irl Stambaugh said Wednesday he specifically recalled Palin telling him in a conversation in her office on Oct. 17 that the task force would not be meeting anymore.” The Frontiersman added, “Confronted with these conflicting stories Wednesday afternoon, Palin dropped the denials she had made earlier in the day. ‘When the (Wasilla City) council, the borough and the City of Palmer voted on the bar closure issue, the question was answered on bar closures,’ Palin stated.”

Palin also exaggerated her work experience during her mayoral campaign. In 1997, Frontiersman columnist Paul Stuart wrote that after Palin had criticized her opponent for using City Hall resources for political gain, “when Palin was asked back then (by me) why the lodge where she claimed, in her campaign, to have gained her management experience, had no record of a borough business license or of paying any bed tax, she paused and said it might have been because the place had no clients for a year or so.” In an article describing the possibility of recalling Palin, the Frontiersman wrote the “reasons include Palin’s alleged falsification of her credentials during the campaign last fall.” (Frontiersman, 1/22/97, 2/5/97)

The Frontiersman said in a 2/7/97 editorial that “Mayor Palin fails to have a firm grasp of something very simple: the truth.” It noted, “Wasilla residents have been subjected to attempts to unlawfully appoint council members, statements that have been shown to be patently untrue, unrepentant backpedaling, and incessant whining that her only enemies are the press and a few disgruntled supporters of former Mayor John Stein.”

A Frontiersman editorial (2/7/97) noted, “The mayor’s administration has been one of contradiction, controversy and discord. While she will blame everyone but herself, we see mostly Sarah at the center of the problem.”

Another Frontiersman editorial (3/7/97) noted, “Wasilla is led by a woman who will tolerate no one who questions her actions or her authority.”

The McCain campaign is shielding Palin from all but the most deferential press, but her reputation for stretching the truth was reinforced during her coming-out speech at the convention. The Associated Press checked some of the allegations in Palin’s speech and contradicted her claims of fiscal conservatism and opposition to earmarks such as “The Bridge to Nowhere,” noting that not only did she request $750 million in special federal spending during her first 20 months as governor, but her opposition to the notorious bridge project came only after the plan was ridiculed nationally.

Even after the debunking of her claim, McCain and the campaign have repeated the lie at least 23 times as of Sept. 9, according to

On her statement that Obama “has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform—not even in the state senate,” the wire service noted that Obama worked with Republicans to pass legislation that expanded efforts to intercept illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction and to help destroy conventional weapons stockpiles. In Illinois, he was the leader on two big, contentious measures in Illinois: studying racial profiling by police and requiring recordings of interrogations in potential death penalty cases. He also successfully cosponsored major ethics reform legislation.

On her statement that “The Democratic nominee for president plans to raise income taxes, raise payroll taxes, raise investment income taxes, raise the death tax, raise business taxes, and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars,” AP noted that the Tax Policy Center, a think tank run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, concluded that Obama’s plan would increase after-tax income for middle-income taxpayers by about 5% by 2012, or nearly $2,200 annually. McCain’s plan cuts taxes across all income levels, but would raise after-tax income for middle-income taxpayers by only 3%, the center concluded. (AP overlooked McCain’s proposal to tax health benefits.)

AP also noted that Obama would provide $80 billion in tax breaks, mainly for poor workers and the elderly, including tripling the Earned Income Tax Credit for minimum-wage workers and higher credits for larger families. He would raise income taxes, capital gains and dividend taxes on the wealthiest income levels. He would raise payroll taxes on taxpayers with incomes above $250,000, and he would raise corporate taxes. Small businesses that make more than $250,000 a year would see taxes rise.

Details, details.

Jim Cullen is editor of The Progressive Populist. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2008

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