McCain’s Choice: A Portrait of Palin

For something like this, the best way to start seems to be to provide the backstory: My sister moved up to Alaska in 2001 for college, which in turn led to both of us becoming interested (and her later involved) in Alaska politics. Among the many figures in the drama that is the Alaskan political scene, Sarah Palin is one that I am pretty familiar with, especially as I ramped up my research on her on what then seemed to be an extremely outside chance of her actually getting the Republican nomination for Vice-President. At that point, it was more fleshing out things that I had heard and it grew from there after the surprise announcement actually happened. Of course, the work (and potential liability from this) are entirely my own. My goal for this is not to promote one side or the other- it is to inform those who choose to seek information about Governor Palin’s record accompanied by my own analysis of what that record portends for Palin as a potential Vice-President or President. The fact of the matter is that Governor Palin’s record is underreported, so this can hopefully be a resource to not only these incidents but sources that have other valuable information and research.

Much hay has been made during this primary season about the importance of experience. However, this argument often loses its most important connotation: what is the quality of the experience and what can we learn about the candidate from it? In Sarah Palin’s case, her time as both Mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska shows a consistent profile that is terrifyingly similar to our current Commander-in-Chief.

Authoritarianism: Loyalty and Qualification

One of the most important tasks for any public servant in a leadership capacity is to surround themselves with capable individuals to allow them to make the best decisions and implement the best policies for their constituency. In some ways, this has been the greatest failing of the Bush Administration.

So what has Sarah Palin done to offend this balance? Let’s start first with her time as Mayor of Wasilla.
Mayor Palin ran a loyalty test to the carryovers from the previous mayor. Palin wrote in the letter: ”I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment …”. Also of note, then-Police Chief Irl Stambaugh and City Librarian Mary Ellen Emmons both had endorsed Palin’s rival, incumbent mayor John Stein. Stembaugh had held his post since its creation in 1993 while Emmons (later Mary Ellen Baker) had been Library director for seven years before Palin became mayor (Source). What makes this even more notable is that many of these same individuals fired for the “loyalty oath” were people who helped Palin get involved in Wasilla politics in the first place.

After this, Mayor Palin asked retained City Librarian Mary Ellen Emmons about the possibility of banning books because of inappropriate language. After Baker was “aghast” at the suggestion, Palin threatened to fire Baker, who would later resign in 1999. In short, Palin inquired about banning books from a public library because she and some constituents found them offensive. Is that a reform-minded public servant with a libertarian streak?

Unfortunately, these trends continued once Palin became Governor in 2006. The Matanuska Maid story has been written about in fabulous fashion in a variety of places, with my two favorites being at Talking Points Memo and a well-researched diary over at Daily Kos. In short, the Matanuska Maid had been hemorrhaging money for quite some time, and it looked like the agricultural board (BAC) was going to shut it down. Right before they were going to make their decision, Palin fired every single person on the board and replaced them with someone more favorable to her position. Unsurprisingly, the new board voted to keep the program going, where it would last only three more months and cost the stare $900,000. However, that is not the end of the story. At that time, Palin put the assets up for auction for $3.3 million, which dubiously got zero bids. Mere months later, the board Palin put in place gave the green light to a deal to Kyle Beus, a dairy farmer from right near Wasillia in Palmer for about 40% of that $3.3m figure. Incidentally, Beus was helped dramatically by a federal earmark of $643,000 helped by the illustrious Ted Stevens. In essence, Palin at first fired a whole board of people to keep a failing business going on the state’s dime, then cut a favorable deal with a fellow “Valley” resident helped by federal taxpayer money.
[NOTE: For more references on this, look at the Talking Points Memo article- they have a bevvy of them that are quite informative]

The bizarreness of “Dairygate” is only eclipsed by the startling reality behind the resignation of Walt Monegan. It began before Palin was Governor, as Alaska state trooper Mike Wooten was married to Palin’s sister. The Palin family put together a 14 accusation list of transgressions they wanted the state police to investigate. The investigation found that five of the fourteen claims had sufficient merit and suspended Wooten for 10 days, which was actually later shortened to five. Palin’s election as governor changed the circumstances, so another attempt at disciplinary action was made (I use passive voice because who made the attempt is the major question in the case, and I don’t want to speak for them). Walt Monegan was the Public Safety Commissioner and the man in charge of any further action, and thus took the brunt of the pressure. Monegan said that the issue was closed, and the force continued to build including from Sarah’s husband Todd Palin. Monegan told Todd that he “”can’t head hunt like this. What you need to do is back off, because if the trooper does make a mistake, and it is a terminable offense, it can look like political interference.” Guess what, he is right legally. Eventually, Monegan resigned rather than taking a transfer to the alcohol control board. It was at this time that the allegations originally came out. Sarah Palin’s initial response? She denied the allegations, saying that no one in her office had anything to do with Monegan’s resignation and a legislative counsel appointed a special commission to look into it. Almost exactly two weeks after Palin’s denial came news that Frank Bailey, who Palin had appointed in August of 2006 had inquired about having Wooten fired. Palin still denies any fault, but a whopping 87% of Alaskans believed she was lying on the issue. Ironically, the man Palin replaced Monegan with was not properly vetted and ended up resigning after just two weeks on the job thanks to a 2005 sexual harassment issue came to light.

Many have tried to discount this story because of how strong the allegations were against Wooten, meaning what the allegations were as opposed to their legitimacy. The fact of the matter is this: each of the claims was investigated and Wooten was disciplined for those which had merit. As someone who is in law school and studying Constitutional law, it is a clear abuse of power to work outside of the already-existing system because you are unsatisfied with the result of an investigation. In effect, it doesn’t realty matter what Wooten did or did not do- the case had run its course. Whether or not he is or was a bad person is absolutely immaterial to why the incident is so problematic for Palin: Any efforts by or on behalf of Palin were exploitave and in violation of her position of power.

[NOTE: The following paragraph is fueled by accusations by AK politician and blogger Andrew Halcro, who has not sourced the linked article for this as much as I would like. As such, I urge taking everything with a grain of salt until the specific allegations have more substance with the legal record. or articles However, they do provide sufficient value and backing to warrant my decision to include them.] There is a great deal of suspicion surrounding another element of the situation concerning Palin and her sister Molly. According to Andrew Halcro, Palin and Molly went to the Palmer courthouse (Yes, Palmer is the city where Dairygate figure Kyle Beus lives- small world!) to get a restraining order put on Wooten while he was in Portland with his stepson. This restraining order was a domestic violence restraining order, which (obviously) requires allegations of spousal abuse/domestic violence. Three weeks after Wooten’s return, Molly “testified that Wooten never hit her or never physically abused her or ever touched the children. She told the judge she was feeling pressure from her family to file the order.” Ladies and gentlemen, here you have the prototype of perjury (if true, of course). How this reflects back on Palin is the last sentence of the quote- telling a judge that you felt pressure to file an order that you know was false is fertile ground for subornation of perjury charges under 18 U.S.C.A. § 1622.

These trials and tribulations by Governor (and then-Mayor) Palin have some fascinating parallels to those of our current President in the years before he took the role in 2000. George W. Bush’s missteps were much more known at the time, but Palin’s blatant mismanagement of the sports complex land deal as Wasilla mayor and Matanuska Maid problems with power as governor show the same knack for taking the wrong path in a way that costs taxpayers money but does not dramatically affect them electorally. That said, they are some of the best indicators we have in terms of whether or not they can govern competently, and they did not bode well for Dubya and they do not for Palin.

A History of Lies and Distortions

In a way, what makes this situation so fascinating is how both Palin and the GOP as a whole have utilized the clear information gap to distort Palin’s positions and record. One of the key applause moments of both of Governor Palin’s high-profile speeches was how she “told Congress thanks but no thanks on the bridge to nowhere.” Unfortunately, that is 100% untrue in multiple ways. First of all, she was for it:

“Palin said Alaska’s congressional delegation worked hard to obtain funding for the bridge as part of a package deal and that she ‘would not stand in the way of the progress toward that bridge.”

Ketchikan Daily News 9/2006

Secondly, the decision to tell Congress “thanks but no thanks” was never Palin’s to make: The earmark money was already in play in 2005, and of course, there’s the fact that she never gave back the money despite the “Bridge to Nowhere” not being built and even spent federal money on the project (a road on Gravina Island that was intended to connect with the bridge project).

She has also worked incredibly hard to distance her reputation from the infamous Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, despite serving as his 527’s director from its incorporation from 2003 until 2005. Also worth mentioning is that Stevens endorsed Palin in her gubernatorial campaign in 2006 and the two filmed a campaign commercial together. There is also the running investigation of her potential abuse of power which 87% of Alaskans think she is lying about (and the story has already changed).

What’s more, Palin has grossly inflated her reform credentials. She spoke on Wednesday about a fiscally responsible government, which is admirable. However, she was so notorious for earmarks that she made John McCain’s lists of objectionable spending three separate times in her eight years as mayor. One example of this is here (and yes, that is then-Mayor Palin’s handwriting). Wasilla had not recieved many (if any) earmarks before then-Mayor Palin took office. She hired former Ted Steven Chief of Staff Steven Silver to act as a lobbyist on behalf of the small town and the earmarks soon followed, with almost $12 million from 2000 to 2003, almost half of Palin’s tenure as mayor.

That does not even include the $15 million from the federal government for regional rail transportation. What’s more, Wasilla’s debt increased from almost nothing to about $20 million in Palin’s eight years.

This does not even include the on-going ethics investigation discussed earlier.

A newer development along this line centers on Palin’s mention in her speech about putting her plane up on eBay. Unlike some of the stories above, this one is 100% true, though it is also misleading. Palin did put the plane on the site (three times), but it did not sell there– she actually sold it through a broker at below her asking price. Why this warrants inclusion is that it was such a strong truth-bender that her own running mate spoke the next day about how Governor Palin sold the plane and “made a profit”, which is completely not true. If even her “soulmate” who vetted her so very closely could not get the story straight, there’s a problem.

These blatant distortions parallel the “compassionate conservative” line embraced by George W. Bush in 2000, enabling him to run as something that was directly antithetical to his actual history in power (and the factual record in general). This is far more astonishing in a world where the Internet is much more prominent than it was in the year 2000, but so far the media has not even had the backbone to call out Governor Palin on the more blatant falsehoods, though that tide can change quickly if the MainStream Media realizes that it’s, you know, their job to be honestly thurough and do some legitimate fact-finding on everyone in the political realm (Note: Even though I am an Obama supporter, I agree with this on every candidate- the American people deserve this vetting).

Why all of this is important and how to use it:
Unsurprisingly, there have already been strong overtures by certain members of the political machine that criticizing or investigating Governor Palin’s record is somehow either sexist or biased. At least coming from this end, that is not the goal at all. The point here is that we the American people are dealing with a public figure who is new on the scene. As such, it proper and fair to provide citizens with the material they need to make an informed decision. Many have chosen to disregard “Troopergate” because of the alleged conduct of Mr. Wooten. Regardless of how inconsistent or irrational as this may appear, citizens have that right- my only goal is to make sure that people have both the right information to make informed decisions coupled with links to resources that can give them far more than what is provided in this space.

Why all of this is important is because it paints two very clear pictures. First, it helps shine a light on the remarkable consistency of Governor Palin’s political career from her favoritism to certain constituencies to her stubbornness to her amazing ability to change positions and lie effortlessly and well. These are not isolated incidents, especially not when they occur with such frequency over such a short period of time. When we are dealing with a candidate for such a major office with a short resume (regardless of who that is or what party they are from), this analysis proves important, and Palin’s history shows that she is neither prepared nor qualified to potentially become this great nation’s Commander-in-Chief and indicates what she is most likely to do with a potential change in role.

That said, the most important message contained in all of this data does not center around Governor Palin at all:

it reflects on Senator McCain’s judgment in making her his choice to be second in line. After all, it is abundantly clear that McCain’s Choice was not fully aware of what the Vice-President’s role is even a month ago. It is not fair to blame McCain’s Choice for her spot on the ticket- she was chosen to be there. As such, any attacks on McCain’s Choice should be levied on McCain, not on her.

It is John McCain who chose someone as his running mate who:
Presides over the state with the highest amount of earmarks per capita despite his well-voiced opposition to them.

Was the mayor of a city whose budget went up from $3.9 million in fiscal 1996 to $5.8 million in fiscal 2002, which is a 67% increase.

Hired a federal lobbyist (who was a former Ted Stevens staffer) while mayor to help garner earmarks for Wasilla

Built up almost twenty millions dollars of debt for her city in her eight years as mayor (from no debt when she took over).

Cut funding for a museum while spending $15 million on a sports complex, a fee augmented by trying to illegally take the land via eminent domain rather than compensating the owner which ended up with legal fees over $1.5 million over the original offer (Source).

-Has a pattern of firing those who either supported her political opponents or disagree with her (and rewarding those with loyalty to her)

-Knowingly and deliberately lied about her own record in both of her national appearances

These flaws should not reflect on McCain’s Choice- they go directly to Senator McCain’s judgment. He is the one who made the choice and he is the one who I beg to simply and truthfully answer these two questions:

1. If your claim that you properly vetted your choice is true, what made you look past her glaring inconsistencies with your core values and overall lack of relevant experience?

2. Was your choice the most qualified to be your Vice-Presidential nominee? If not, what made her a better choice than the more qualified alternatives?

Because after all, it’s more important to be ready to lead a country than help win an election, right?

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