Palin returns to a changed Alaska
Its oil-driven economy is less flush, for one. The governor’s harsh rhetoric while on the national stump, too, has eroded her support at home.
When she left Alaska in August to run as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin was a much-loved governor with approval ratings near 90 percent; a record for pursuing centrist, bipartisan policies; and a reputation as a corruption-fighter.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Her home state was awash in money, thanks to record oil prices, and residents were set to get big checks in the form of dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund and a state tax rebate. The economic future seemed secure, with Governor Palin advancing the case for a big, new, natural-gas pipeline.
What a difference a couple of months make.
Upon her return to Alaska Nov. 5, Palin’s nonpartisan reputation is in shreds, a side effect of her role as chief attacker of Democratic rival Barack Obama. Damaged, too, is her image as ethics reformer, with questions lingering over an abuse-of-power scandal involving a feud against her sister’s ex-husband, alleged circumvention of public-records laws, concerns about state payments for her children’s travel and nights spent in her own home, and even how she acquired the haute-couture wardrobe she sported on the campaign trail.
Palin, in her first moments back as full-time governor, urged opponents to let bygones be bygones.
“Nobody should have hurt feelings,” she said at the Anchorage airport the night she returned to Alaska. “My goodness, this is politics. Politics is rough and tumble, and people need to get thick skins, just like I’ve gotten.”
That goes for the incoming president, she added. “The voters have chosen their leader. Now it’s our opportunity to reach out to President-elect Obama, get him to see the light in terms of what Alaska has to contribute, to offer. I can’t wait to get to work with him.”
Mending fences may not be that easy. The governor’s old bipartisan coalition is gone, says state Rep. Les Gara, a Democrat who was a Palin ally on key oil and gas issues.
“You probably now have a lot of Republicans who like our governor and a lot of Democrats who are offended about the things she said about President-elect Obama. I’m offended that she said he was a terrorist sympathizer,” says Mr. Gara, an Obama supporter.
Alaska is not the same now, either. Oil prices have tumbled back to earth from the record levels that had padded the state treasury, meaning budget deficits may lie ahead. The global financial crisis is worsening prospects for the $30 billion North Slope natural-gas pipeline that Alaskans have sought to build since the 1970s. And it’s not yet certain that Sen. Ted Stevens, who has represented Alaska in the US Senate almost as long as Palin has been alive, will prevail in his reelection bid.
Senator Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, was clinging to a 3,257-vote lead as of Nov. 5. Vote counting will resume Nov. 12, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.
The vote results, in the face of the guilty verdict returned against Stevens two weeks ago in his federal corruption trial, showed an unshakable reservoir of loyalty to the senator, says Andrew Halcro, a former Republican state legislator who publishes an Alaska political blog and hosts a radio talk show. “I don’t know if it should make you proud or make you a little uncomfortable,” Mr. Halcro said as the results rolled in on election night.
Palin’s approval ratings are now in the 60 percent range, lower than she previously enjoyed but still in positive territory. Her job at home has just been made harder, though, by global oil markets.