A Palin Primer: What's true, what isn't about Alaska governor

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 10, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Since rocketing into political stardom as John McCain's running mate two weeks ago, Sarah Palin has been dogged by questions.

She will sit down Thursday with ABC for her first interview.

Here's a quick primer on several of the questions swirling around the Republican governor from Alaska:

Q. Was Palin accurate when she said that she opposed Alaska's "bridge to nowhere," which became a symbol of congressional spending gone wild?

A. Yes, but with an explanation.

"I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' on that 'bridge to nowhere,'" Palin told the Republican National Convention last week. "If our state wanted a bridge, we'd build it ourselves."

Democrats claim that Palin was for the bridge before she was against it, that she opposed it only when it became a national joke and Congress killed it in 2005.

Palin did support the $398 million project to build a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island's 50 residents when she ran for governor in 2006.

But Congress had already pulled the plug by that time. However, while it had eliminated the project, the money remained and was still Alaska's to spend on transportation.

According to Congressional Quarterly, Palin continued to back the bridge "long after it was no longer necessary for Alaska to spend money" on it. She still could have built it, but as governor, chose not to.

"Ultimately it was her call," according to CQ, and "not inaccurate for Palin to say she 'stopped the bridge to nowhere.'"

Q. Is it true, as Palin said at the convention, that she "championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress?"

A. Yes, with an explanation.

Earmarking is the practice where lawmakers insert pet projects into bills with little or no oversight.

Before Palin became mayor of Wasilla, her town had never been that involved in seeking earmarks. But by 2000, its 7,000 residents had their own Washington lobbyist, according to several newspaper accounts.

Palin won nearly $27 million in federal earmarks, according to FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan campaign watchdog Web site sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania.

Ironically, McCain, a longtime earmark foe who has called the practice "disgraceful," criticized several of his future running mate's requests at the time.

She was elected governor in 2006 and continued to tap the earmark lode. But she asked for fewer earmarks this year -- about $200 million worth of requests -- than she did her first year in office, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Palin is on record speaking out against the state relying too much on earmarks. She has told her administration to cut back its requests, drawing praise from the Anchorage newspapers.

Q. Was Palin ever a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, which has supported a vote on whether the state should secede from the union?

A. No. A party official erroneously told reporters last week that Palin had been a member. The official retracted the statement. But Palin's husband belonged for several years.

Palin did attend one of the party's conventions when it was held in Wasilla while she was mayor.

Q. As mayor, did Palin order several books banned from the town library and fire the librarian when she refused?

A. No. No books were ever banned. And the titles that Palin is said to have wanted tossed included several that at the time hadn't even been published yet, according to FactCheck.org.

But she fired the town librarian twice.

Librarian Mary Ellen Emmons told the Anchorage Daily News that Palin asked her three separate times about the possibility of removing books from the shelves. Each time, Emmons said she wouldn't.

At a local council meeting, Palin explained that her questions on banning had to do with "understanding and following administration agendas," according to the Anchorage paper.

But Palin did end up firing Emmons. The first time, she rehired her, as well as several other department heads that she also let go. Palin called it a loyalty test since the employees had been there under the previous mayor.

The second time, Palin rehired Emmons only after the town got upset, according to several newspaper accounts and FactCheck.org.

CLARIFICATION: In a story on questions swirling around Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McClatchy Newspapers provided an incomplete answer as to whether Palin, while mayor of Wasilla, Palin fired the town librarian.

In fact, Palin did ask for the librarian's resignation twice.

The first time, she rehired her, as well as several other department heads that she also let go. Palin called it a loyalty test since the employees had been there under the previous mayor.

The second time, Palin rehired the librarian only after the town got upset, according to several newspaper accounts and FactCheck.org.

The librarian ultimately resigned in August 1999, two months before Palin was voted in for a second mayoral term.

Q. As governor, has Palin asked the state to pay her "meal money" when she was staying in her own home?

A. Yes. The state capital in Juneau is the governor's official work site. But it's 600 miles from her home in Wasilla. The Washington Post reported this week that since Palin often works out of an office in nearby Anchorage, she has asked for a $60-per-day state allowance available for state workers when they travel on official business.

Palin has billed the state about $17,000 for times when she stayed in her home since becoming governor in 2006.

"She's entitled to it," Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow told the Anchorage Daily News.

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, told the newspaper, "You don't pay yourself for living at home ... it's not right."

Q. Did Palin put a state jet on eBay?

A. Yes, but it didn't sell. "That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay."

That's what Palin told the Republican convention and she has repeated it in speeches ever since. The McCain campaign has held up the eBay story as a symbol of Palin's frugality and commitment to reform.

But the plane never sold on eBay.

Her state actually lost money on the deal, according to the Anchorage Daily News, despite McCain telling an audience last week, "She made a profit, too."

Palin's predecessor paid $2.7 million for the jet. The state tried to sell it on eBay for $2.5 million, but ended up using a broker who sold it to a businessman for $2.1 million

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service