By Andrew Halcro Anchorage Press
On the morning of April 18, 2006, I sat in the Hotel Captain Cook coffee shop with Sarah Palin comparing campaign trail notes. Yes, there was a time when Palin and I could hold a civil conversation, long before she began calling me “dumbass” in her emails… but I digress.
While talking about the trials and tribulations of the trail, she offered up a personal thought that still rings in my ears.
“Andrew, I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers and yet when asked questions you spout off facts, figures and policies and I’m amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, does any of this really matter?”
Five years have come and gone since our coffee klatch at the Cook, but the answer still holds true; yes, it does really matter to have an understanding of facts, figures and policies… Unless, of course, you’re Sarah Palin.
The plethora of nationwide columns dedicated to will-she-or-won’t-she run for president has exceeded the saturation point, and it’s become increasingly clear that pundits who chased Palin’s tour bus and dug through her emails are focused on today’s vibe instead looking at tomorrow’s reverberations.
Why should any of the current crop of GOP candidates worry about Sarah Palin in 2012?
If I’m Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman or even Bachman, I’m praying Palin gets in the race. For this is an opponent who not only made bad decisions before she quit halfway through her term, but who’s also never matured as a serious public policy maker.
Even ignoring the free-fall of her nationwide approval ratings among voters, Palin’s entrance into the race will do more to galvanize GOP leaders and donors behind an electable candidate than anything else. And while some often refer to Palin as an unconventional candidate, winning an election still requires attracting conventional voters.
While the McCain team basically kept Palin shielded from the media during the 2008 campaign, the times she did sit for interviews (or the single debate she had with Joe Biden) exposed Palin as not ready for prime time, to put it kindly.
Three years after the electoral derailment of the McCain-Palin train, nothing has changed for candidate Palin. She has remained the same caricature of herself: clueless, self-serving and shallow.
After she quit her job as Alaska’s governor, she filmed a reality show and is now selling her opinions on Fox News. In her spare time she has honed her political fight club by using Twitter and Facebook to attack critics and opponents alike.
The use of social media and her presence on Fox News provide effective tools for Palin to maintain a high profile in politics while keeping an even higher firewall between herself and any intrusive questioning.
For Palin, controlling the media engagement and insuring a one way flow of communication is essential to her success. However, a fiercely contested GOP primary would shatter Palin’s shielded political existence.
If Palin does run she can expect baptism by fire (as evident in George W. Bush and John McCain in South Carolina circa 2000). She is unable to imagine the intense scrutiny from fellow Republican candidates that will come, undoubtedly testing her paper-thin skin.
For Palin’s potential primary opponents, questioning her record as governor and her qualifications for president would be as easy as hitting the broad side of her tour bus with a shovel.
She’s an energy expert…
An energy expert wouldn’t have raised oil and gas taxes to the highest levels in state history while their administration was running roughshod over oil and gas companies’ constitutional right to due process.
An energy expert wouldn’t have pinned the state’s economic future to spending $500 million on a natural gas pipeline to nowhere.
Palin’s record on energy is very clear and it’s not very pretty. And despite what she said as recent as May 31 about being a governor of a state that supplies 20 percent of America’s total energy, she has constantly needed corrected-the actual number is closer to three percent.
In 2007, Palin, riding a wave of populism, proposed raising oil taxes to the tune of $650 million based on a $95 barrel of oil. Two months later she signed legislation that raised taxes based on a $95 barrel of oil by $2.4 billion.
Writing in the Anchorage Daily News at the time, Juneau economist Gregg Erickson quipped, “It was as if Gov. Sarah Palin asked the Legislature for a nice sensible winter jacket and they sent her a full-length mink parka.”
Erickson went on to write, “A beaming Palin didn’t seem to mind as she walked into the Capitol’s third-floor conference room a couple of weeks ago to laud legislators for passing a bill boosting revenue by almost four times more than she had proposed in her Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share bill.” When she was asked about the four-fold increase from her initial tax proposal, Palin shrugged to the press that the outcome wasn’t much different than her version.
Today, Governor Sean Parnell is calling the massive tax hike he supported (under Palin) a job and investment killer. He has made it a priority to roll back the tax hike approved by Palin.
In 2006, when Palin was elected governor, Alaska was pumping 759,000 barrels of oil per day according to Alyeska Pipeline Company. When she left office in 2009, oil production had dropped to 672,000 barrels per day. Today, with oil company executives saying Palin’s tax increase has stymied investment on Alaska’s North Slope, the state is pumping roughly 605,000 barrels per day.
And what about Alaska’s natural gas pipeline that Palin trumpeted?
Even after signing a contract that awards up to $500 million in taxpayer cash to a company that can’t build the pipeline themselves, it still didn’t stop Governor Palin from taking credit for the project during her address at the Republican National Convention on September 3, 2008.
“As governor, I insisted on competition and basic fairness to end their control of our state and return it to the people. I fought to bring about the largest private-sector infrastructure project in North American history. And when that deal was struck, we began a nearly 40 billion-dollar natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence.”
A month later, she once again claimed to be building Alaska’s elusive natural gas pipeline during the vice presidential debate on October 2, 2008.
“We’re building the nearly forty billion dollar natural gas pipeline, which is North America’s largest and most expensive infrastructure project.”
Three years later and her much touted gas pipeline plan has become an expensive failure. In hindsight, her words “we’re building” actually meant “Alaska is obligated to pay up to $500 million to a company who has no chance of building a natural gas pipeline because they have no gas, no customers and no credit.”
In addition, Palin’s ill-fated Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) adds insult to injury by prohibiting the state from supporting alternative pipeline plans due to a treble damages clause supported by Palin.
I can see a 30-second attack ad on Palin’s oil tax hike and natural gas pipeline fiasco from my porch.
Finally, her soon-to-be-released movie will portray her as a governor who stood up to big oil. However, court records show that Palin’s petty pursuit of Exxon did little more than attempt to violate their right to due process. Last year, in a decision on Exxon’s lease termination, Judge Sharon Gleason wrote, “because DNR failed to accord the Appellants their constitutional right to procedural due process in the remand proceeding, DNR’s decision is reversed.”
She’s fiscally conservative…
During the 2006 campaign for governor, Sarah Palin spoke often about how she was going to cut state spending, review agency operations then prioritize state spending and cut those services that were not “constitutionally mandated.” The words “finding efficiencies” seemed to be laced in every speech.
In December 2006, Governor Palin’s initial budget proposal for FY’08 grabbed early headlines for her promise to cut the operating budget by $150 million.
The spending cuts were never made by Palin, and six months later she signed the largest budget in state history.
And although the press (they weren’t so “lamestream” in her eyes back then) focused on the $231 million she vetoed from the capital budget, the fact is both the operating and the capital budgets came in at a combined $350 million higher than what she originally proposed in her budget.
Along that same failed promise came the rate of savings. While “saving for the future” was the clarion call in justifying cuts to the capital budget, the $127 million she had promised to save ended up being just $5.6 million according to the Office of Management and Budget.
Ah, those damned facts and figures again…
On December 10, 2007, Governor Palin introduced her administration’s proposed FY’09 operating budget. The administration touted a plan to hold state operating expenses to just a four percent increase.
However when Palin’s budget proposal was analyzed by the legislative finance division, the administration’s budget was found to be a 15 percent increase in spending, not the four percent originally advertised.
In an interview in March of 2008 with Anne Sutton of the Associated Press, Palin’s Budget Director Karen Rehfeld said, “Until Alaskans decide what public services they don’t want us to deliver any longer as a state, any significant reduction in the operating budget is going to be difficult.”
Three months later Governor Palin signed the largest operating budget in the state’s history at $6.1 billion, a nine percent increase over her previous record budget.
Ironically, in her September 2008 interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson during the VP campaign, Palin repeated the same budgeting gibberish for the federal government as she offered up during her time as governor. “We’re going to find efficiencies in every department. We have got to,” she told Gibson.
When she was pressed by Gibson about specifics, Palin repeated her soundbite logic, “I am sure that there are efficiencies that are going to be found in all of these agencies. I’m confident in that.”
Palin’s creative budgeting history is far from what she preaches today to the Tea Party faithful. Palin as governor never found agency efficiencies or eliminated unnecessary services to balance the state’s budget, she simply raised oil taxes.
Palin announced her resignation in July 2009, just weeks after signing the largest operating budget in state history.
She resigned due to ethics complaints…
Nice excuse but nobody is buying it. Given Frank Bailey’s recent tell all book, Blind Allegiance, detailing how Palin became wholly uninterested in being governor after tasting the high life of national politics, legal costs were the last thing that made Palin resign.
And while Palin publicly maintains that frivolous ethics complaints caused her to abruptly abandon her duties, why didn’t she bother to at least introduce legislation to adopt a more equitable ethics process to protect herself and future governors?
The answer might be found in a review of Palin’s ethics cases. The numbers show the largest legal bills came from her own costly mistakes. These included her refusal to answer questions during the Troopergate investigation (editor’s note: this author, Andrew Halcro, broke the Troopergate scandal on his blog, andrewhalcro.com) and her battle with the ethics committee over the state paying for her family’s travel expenses.
On April 28, 2009, Sarah wrote a simple but frequently repeated message, according to Bailey: “I hate this damn job…”
Even her actions during the months preceding her abrupt resignation show she was more interested in her own public relations than governing Alaska.
After nominating controversial local attorney Wayne Anthony Ross for attorney general, Palin left town before the confirmation vote, to give a speech in Indiana. Meanwhile, her nominee’s outrageous comments prior to his confirmation vote resulted in him being the first AG nominee in state history to be voted down by the legislature.
Palin quit because she was no longer interested in doing the hard work required as governor. She longed for a higher public profile with more profitable opportunities, without the burden of having to lead.
As Bailey wrote in his memoir, “From the beginning of 2009, Sarah’s Chief of Staff [Mike] Nizich along with Lt. Governor Sean Parnell assumed most of Sarah’s administrative duties.” He went on to explain in great detail how “Sarah hadn’t ever really been a full-time governor before being nabbed by McCain,” and that “punishing enemies and wealth accumulation became a full-time job.”
As the late Governor Walter J. Hickel, a former Palin ally and co-chair of her 2006 campaign for governor, said towards the end, “Sarah has become all about Sarah.”
Shooting fish in a barrel…
Palin’s record of governing is an opponent’s dream. The reality of her failed policies as governor are obviously the driving force behind the cinematic attempt to rewrite Palin’s brief gubernatorial history.
Contrary to the claim that Palin is a rare kind of politician, she’s actually quite common-extremely predictable and consistently underwhelming.
On August 30, 2008, just one day after she was chosen by McCain to be the VP nominee, I wrote a blog post about what Palin would have to do to be a success: “Palin will need to learn that reporters are hanging on her every word and that the level of scrutiny from the press will be relentless. The lack of domestic and foreign policy knowledge will become problematic if Palin doesn’t become a fast learner.”
Within weeks it became painfully evident that Palin was incapable of learning much of anything, and she was roundly mocked for her inability to answer even the easiest of questions. Fast-forward three years and nothing has changed regarding Sarah Palin’s character arc.
She has not become more educated on world events, she hasn’t matured as a leader and she hasn’t increased her curb appeal to moderate Republicans and independents. In short, Palin is still performing as if having an understanding of facts, figures and policies doesn’t really matter.
Today with a strong majority of Americans viewing Palin as distinctly unqualified to be president, combined with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and its impact on funding and shaping campaign attack messaging, Palin is an opponent’s dream.
In 2012, the only candidate who should be afraid of Sarah Palin is Sarah Palin.
Andrew Halcro, a former Alaska legislator, blogs about Alaska politics at andrewhalcro.com
2Tim 1:13…….. “Hold fast the pattern of sound words…in faith and love…