Saturday, September 20, 2008

I Worked For Sarah Palin

Here's a great Diary from the Daily Kos about the Governor of Alaska.

Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 11:34:36 AM PDT

As a former low grade employee for the State of Alaska, I spent 16 months observing Sarah Palin's executive experience first hand. I've been trying to write a diary about this, but want to do it in a way that is not mean spirited. I diary rarely and want to let you know what it is like to live in Sarah Palin's state.

The Washington Post finally opened the door for me with an article that reflected my experience of working for Governor Palin:

According to lawmakers, senior gubernatorial aides and others who have watched her closely, the woman chosen by Republican Sen. John McCain as his vice presidential running mate has little interest in political give-and-take, or in sustained working relationships with legislators or other important figures around the state. Nor has she proven particularly attentive to the details of public policy. "She's not known for burning the midnight oil on in-depth policy issues," said Larry Persily, a former journalist who was associate director of the governor's Washington office until the spring.

This fits well with what many of my co-workers in Alaska government have to say about Palin. Palin's initial high popularity ratings came from her undeniable personal charm, her staunch conservatism, her capacity to say what people want to hear, and her ability to hand out billions of dollars because of Alaska's oil wealth. The behind the scenes picture is not so positive.

Gregg Erickson, editor of the Alaska Budget Report, a subscription only newsletter widely read by policy makers reported:

Her approval ratings are high--65 percent, or so--but down from 80 percent earlier in her term. Most Alaskan's haven't watched her as closely as most reporters or legislators. If you took a poll of reporters and legislators I expect her approval rating would be down in the teens or twenties.

Sarah Palin came into office with an excess of good support. She replaced a much disliked, autocratic Republican governor who had the lowest approval ratings in the nation. She won the election over a former Democratic governor who had to govern this complex state during a time of budget deficits and low oil prices. Alaska has always been a state of boom and bust and, in this time of boom, everyone was willing to give her a chance. She had initial good reviews. As people got to know her and her governing style, these have faded. Reasons for this include:

  1. Sarah Palin was not willing to take on the public role of governor. For instance, asked to appear at events such as a forum for health and social service providers in Anchorage, she would not commit to the appearance, instead saying that she would either attend or send a surrogate. These random RSVP's left important organizations with gaps in their programs and hurt the effort to get people to significant meetings. In the same way, she would neither show up nor send a staff person to important policy planning meetings within the legislative branch.
  1. When she did show up, Governor Palin frequently seemed to be there in body only. Alaska has vast challenges delivering health care. The state is larger than all but 18 sovereign countries with few roads and fewer medical resources outside of the metro areas. To give her credit, with much fanfare Palin organized a health care strategies planning council to look at health care needs and make recommendations. But the commitment stopped there. She failed to attend most meetings and used the council as a reason to postpone important decisions about health care policy. I got a call from a member after one meeting where the Governor finally showed up. "She blackberried the whole time, she didn't even look at us and said almost nothing." This initial spurt of enthusiasm followed by neglect was frequently repeated in a variety of situations. It worked to some extent. With her initial enthusiasm, Gov. Palin got people hopeful that she would address issues. She is adept at knowing how to study and learn what to say. But she didn't follow through in many instances.
  1. She ran her job like a business - her business. By that I mean, that she did what she wanted, whether or not it was appropriate for the role of Governor. Juneau, the capitol of Alaska, has a beautiful governor's mansion. In the recent past, at least since 1994, governors have moved there to be close to the seat of government. However, Palin decided that she wanted to stay at home and spent most of her time at her home in Wasilla, commuting to Anchorage to conduct business. She also said that state commissioners no longer had to live in Juneau. This resulted in many problems in state government. Commissioners were spread between two locations, an hour and fifty minute plane ride from each other. Commissioners such as that of Health and Social Services, one of the largest Departments in the state, didn't get to talk with their governor; the business of government was unnecessarily fragmented.

When I have taken a job, I have moved to where my bosses wanted me to work. Sarah Palin didn't feel any need to do likewise and hurt the state. Others have sufficiently reported on the fact that she charged the state per diem for meals while she remained at home in Wasilla. This is the kind of thing a small businessperson does to stretch income and avoid taxes, not appropriate behavior for the head of a state.

  1. I'll close with the infamous Bridge to Nowhere because this is where Alaskans may feel most betrayed by our governor's behavior. You've all heard the press reports by now, but in Alaska, this was seen differently. The phrase "Bridge to Nowhere" was coined to describe a bridge that would connect the city of Ketchikan to its airport. While Ketchikan is a town of only 14,000, its airport serves all of the surrounding rural areas. In 2007, more than 220,000 people came through the airport. And, getting from the almost uninhabited island on which the airport sits to town requires taking a ferry. People from Ketchikan travel to Juneau or Seattle to do their major shopping. When they come home laden with packages, they need to walk out of the airport, across the street, down a ramp, pay $5.00 for their fare, onto a ferry, across the channel, up a ramp, and to their car. Or someone can pay $16.00 in all to take the ferry across the channel and back to pick them up. Whether or not the bridge is a wise or fiscally prudent decision, it is not a bridge to nowhere.

[UPDATE: There have been a lot of comments about the bridge being a poor use of money. I agree with that. A less expensive alternative will be better and more environmentally sound. I don't agree that it was a bridge to nowhere. I support other options, but also understand why many people supported the bridge. Having come into Ketchikan (a town that receives 162" of rain in an average year) in a slushy show storm and getting wet to my waist wading to and from the ferry, an alternative would sometimes be nice.]

Alaskans were offended by the phrase Bridge to Nowhere when it was first used. Apparently, so was Sarah Palin When she was running for governor in 2006, Palin said that she found the term insulting. When it served her higher ambitions, Palin used the term in her vice presidential acceptance speech - while still drawing salary as governor of Alaska, pledged to further the interests of Alaskan communities. Alaskans were outraged at this betrayal. It demonstrates how this woman puts ambition ahead of responsibility.

I could go on - but this is enough. I am angry that she is where she is in such a time of peril. When I heard her in a gubernatorial debate in 2006, I told those with me, "This woman is channeling Karl Rove, where will she end up?" I thought I was being paranoid. Now I know one can never be too paranoid about the ambitions of those in power in the Bush administration. At least there is a small silver lining in this election no matter how it turns out - if Obama loses, Alaska wins. The choice of Palin as a running mate showed the cynicism of McCain and his advisors and the pure lack of statesmanship of those who are governing us in the Republican administration now. I hope Alaska loses and has to take Palin back as Governor. Then the nation will win.

Tags: Sarah Palin, Alaska, 2008 elections, Vice President, Recommended (all tags) :: Previous Tag Versions

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