IF RONALD REAGAN WAS THE GREAT COMMUNICATOR THEN SARAH PALIN IS THE GREAT POLARIZER,
The Alaska legislature meets from January to April as stated and Sarah was in residence during those four months during the rest of the year she governed from her Anchorage office while living at home in Wasilla. She collected per diem while living at home for hotel expenses at $58.00 a day. However she did not accept compensation for meals. Later after an ethics investigation she had to pay taxes on this money as well as the per diem received for her family when they accompanied her on official trips. Her per diem claims are strange considering the fact she rejected a pay increase from $125000 to $150000 after becoming Governor. The only advantage the per diem claims would have is they are not taxable.
When she arrived in Juneau in January of 2007 the results of an FBI investigation were released and many legislators and others were indicted some pleading guilty to taking money for votes or other illegal acts. These were mostly Republicans. She states that Democrats were guilty of the same practices when they were in power. However the book is silent on any investigation or Democratic convictions or if the FBI only investigated Republicans.
The FBI investigation took place before she became Governor and so she cannot claim it was part of any “clean up” campaign by her administration. However she did blow the whistle on fellow commissioners who had conflicts of interest when she was on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before she came to the Governorship. This led to resignations and fines.
She commissioned a white paper to be written by a Republican and a Democrat as a bipartisan document on the ethics scandal ostensibly this document was to be the basis for remedial legislation however she doesn’t say what specific changes were to be made other than some general rules of ethics to be followed like not accepting money for votes but campaign contributions were okay. Her first legislative director recommended that she not release the paper as it would anger legislators who were working on their own bill (and with whom she would later have to work with) she did anyway and received an angry response from some legislators that she should not paint the entire legislature as being corrupt and attempt to change things on her own but with the legislature. Of course that was her plan to change the way things were done in the past to her way.
The Alaska Supreme court ruled that same sex couples had to receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples, despite this the legislature sent the unconstitutional bill banning same sex marriage to her for signing so she vetoed it as the Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional. However she says she still is for marriage only between a man and a woman.
The veto seemed like a no brainer since it was following the constitutional mandate as ruled upon but conservatives criticized her any way
She says her first choice as legislative director was an experienced staffer who she thought would help dealing with the legislature. As she put it he could tell her where the “light switches were” however the many early faux pas of her dealings with the legislature are blamed on this unnamed individual.
As chief executive of the largest state in the union with a 14 billion dollar( other sources say it was $6.6 billion) budget (mostly from taxes on oil production as Alaska has no sales or income tax) the development and conservation of oil resources was paramount in her policies. The price of oil was critical to Alaska and the price had gone from $9.00 a barrel in 1999 to $140.00 in 2008. However she had the luxury of governing when oil revenues were at their highest historically, which also was probably a factor in her gaining National attention.
She wanted to cut the fat out on the Alaska budget as she had when she allegedly sold the state plane on e-bay ( there were no bidders) so she sold the plane to a private party at a loss later saying ” I couldn’t land on all the gravel strips in Alaska I might want to go.”
She attempted the same policy with the state budget by cutting appropriations like expenditures for a blue berry farm, landscaping trimming for a school (the girl scouts should volunteer to do this) or a memorial for a legislator who committed suicide. What the deceased legislator’s real accomplishments were she omits. So she makes it look like she would not memorialize people who commit suicide no matter what their achievements.
She then had her legislative director notify the legislators that she would only consider appropriations for core services like public safety, education and infrastructure. If the legislature sent her pork she would cut it and she wanted the beneficiaries of appropriations to prioritize requests. This was never done because her legislative director, whom she later came to the conclusion was an “insider”, was against prioritizing the budget on public safety, education and infrastructure grounds had not conveyed her policies to the legislators.
As a result there was a huge outcry when she revealed her new budget after many items were line item vetoed. She fired the legislative director who was immediately hired as a staffer for another legislator ( from where she had hired him in the first place) and he became one of the more prominent critics of her administration.
So she arrived and gave the impression that she wanted to work with the legislature by hiring one of their staffers and after she had milked him for knowledge about the in and outs of politics in Juneau she fired him. Incidentally she describes him as playing games on his blackberry during important meetings and walking around with the tail of his shirt sticking out from his fly. However other than this she doesn’t specifically relate any failures on his part other than her budget priorities.
This may be something thought up after the fact because we know later she was initially for building the “bridge to nowhere” with federal money until it was publicized as an egregious example of pork barrel spending by way of earmarks. Then she was against it but accepted the money appropriated for it and used it for other purposes many of which could be considered pork by the standards she alleges she set for the state budget.
She created the Pipeline Systems Integrity Office to police the oil industry to make sure it kept the oil infrastructure in good repair. This was not in the Reagan philosophy, her hero, as he was against increased regulation letting the free market guide industry, but it is in line with her penchant for passing financial burdens on to non Alaskans.
She alleges that the pressure she kept on the state legislature and the ongoing FBI investigation prompted the legislature to pass an omnibus ethics bill making it a crime to sell votes for money and that any legislator who was convicted of a felony would forfeit his state pension rights. This last part on its face appears to be unconstitutional and unenforceable window dressing. Further she claims it as her accomplishment and not the legislatures although her proposed ethics bill was never passed.
The Alaska Gas Line Inducement Act (AGIA) was passed while she was in office to reimbure successful bidders up to $500 million seed money on an Alaska Gas Pipeline to the lower Forty Eight. Thus encouraging bidders other than the consortium extracting oil from Prudhoe Bay and other areas in Alaska. The cost of the pipeline has been estimated as low as $14 million and as high as $24 million. There was only one bid on the project so it was awarded to the Trans Canada Pipeline Company, a Canadian Company that operates major gas pipelines throughout Canada. The jury is out as to whether a gas line can be built through Canada’s McKenzie River Valley as the First Nations People are litigating its construction.
Also it is to be noted that the major oil companies refused to bid under the conditions proposed in the bill so the alleged purpose of the bill to encourage numerous bidders failed. This is considered her major accomplishment in office although it may never come to fruition.
So in sum she continued to be a polarizing politician creating discord and dissent with very little partisan (within her own party) results or bi-partisan achievements.