Announcement stuns, splits Alaska political world

Anchorage Daily NewsAugust 29, 2008 

John McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate stunned and divided Alaska political leaders today. Supporters said she was a shrewd choice, but others argued Palin has no business being a heartbeat away from the presidency.

"I think it's very easy to underestimate Sarah Palin," said John Binkley, a former state legislator who lost to her in the 2006 Republican primary for governor.

Binkley said Palin has guts and an innate ability to connect with voters. He said the choice of Palin lets the McCain campaign refocus on its theme of change, which he said it's been drifting away from.

Binkley dismissed doubts she isn't ready.

"Many people said that about her in terms of being governor, and I think she's done an excellent job," Binkley said.

The reaction wasn't so rosy elsewhere. State Senate President Lyda Green said she thought it was a joke when someone called her at 6 a.m. to tell her the news.

"She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? said Green, a Republican from Palin's hometown of Wasilla. "Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?"

Green, who has feuded with Palin, brought up the big oil tax increase Palin pushed through last year. She also pointed to the award of a $500 million state subsidy to a Canadian firm to pursue a natural gas pipeline that's far from guaranteed.

House Speaker John Harris, a Republican from Valdez, was also astonished at the news. He didn't want to get into the issue of her qualifications.

"She's old enough," Harris said. "She's a U.S. citizen."

Democrats helped give Palin her victories on oil taxes and the natural gas pipeline deal, over opposition from some Republicans in the Legislature.

But Democrats had little love for her today. Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French said it's a huge mistake by McCain and "reflects very, very badly on his judgment."

Alaska Democratic Party chairwoman Patti Higgins, attending her party's national convention in Denver, said she was shocked to hear the news this morning.

"In this very competitive election for them to go pick somebody who is ... under a cloud of suspicion, who is under investigation for abuse of power. It just sounds like a pretty slow start to me," Higgins said.

The state Legislature is investigating whether Palin and her staff broke state law by pressuring the public safety department to fire a state trooper who was in a custody battle with her sister.

"We need a vice president who can step in if, God forbid, something happened to John McCain," Higgins said. "I don't think she's someone who is ready for that 3 a.m. phone call."

The Republican Party of Alaska said it's 100 percent behind Palin -- despite the battles she's had with state party chairman Randy Ruedrich.

"She brings her voice of new energy and change," party spokesman McHugh Pierre said. "And she knows Alaska."

Ruedrich was not giving interviews today. Palin's complaints against Ruedrich before she became governor led to the state fining him on ethics charges.

McCain noted approvingly in introducing Palin today that "she's fought oil companies and party bosses."

Palin and Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens were at odds in the past as well.

The governor last year called on Stevens to explain why he was being investigated in the federal probe that has since led to his indictment on failure to disclose gifts

But they've appeared closer lately, and Stevens put out a statement saying that "it's a great day for the nation and Alaskans."

"Gov. Palin has proven herself as a bright, energetic leader for our state and will bring the same energy to the vice presidency. She will serve our country with distinction - the first Alaskan and first woman on the Republican ticket. I share in the pride of all Alaskans," Stevens said in the statement.

North Pole Republican Sen. Gene Therriault, who leads the minority caucus in the state Senate, said Palin has executive experience and he thinks she's ready for the job.

"I think it's a great opportunity for the state of Alaska," Therriault said. "For us to get our message out in what the satae has to offer to the nation."

Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg, a Palin appointee, said McCain's announcement left him with "a mixed set of emotions, kind of an odd sense of Alaska nationalism or pride."

"This is like watching a moon landing or something. It's just something you don't expect to see very often. It's wonderful." He continued: "It was an emotional thing to see the governor walk out with her family and I say, wow, I work for her."

Palin likely will be spending much time campaigning outside of Alaska. Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell also is preoccupied with campaigning for Alaska's lone U.S. House seat.

Colberg would become governor if Palin and Parnell both are elected and leave their current positions.

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