The Accomplished Sarah Palin

Thursday night/Friday morning, on the eve of John McCain’s announcement of who his running mate would be, was an all-nighter for this scribe. I really was tired and sleepy, but I just couldn’t make myself go to bed. Instead I was following this thread of comments on the Draft Sarah Palin For Vice President website. Adam Brickley, who created the site in February of 2007, has faithfully and tirelessly promoted Gov. Palin for the vice presidency ever since. My own meager efforts in support of Palin consisted of a couple of journal entries (here and here), so they pale in comparison to those of Adam, Palin’s true web champion.

The thread was a fascinating thing to watch as it unfolded. The contributors tried to separate solid clues from rumor as each new comment was posted. Pawlenty was in Ohio. No he wasn’t; he was staying in Minnesota for the state fair. Palin was in Alaska. No, wait, she might be in Ohio. What really intrigued me were the reports taken from a site which tracks aircraft flights. There was a lot of activity with a couple of chartered bizjets, one which flew from Alaska to Arizona and back, and another which made its way from Alaska directly to Ohio. The dates and time were just too convenient to be coincidence, and it seemed like a troublesome and expensive way to misdirect attention away from any other potential nominee.

As the first light of morning began to illuminate the view through my computer room window, my tired old bones could take no more. I racked out for a couple of hours of badly needed sleep. I awoke in time to hear Fox News report that all of the signs were pointing to Sarah Palin. The news which followed was so good, I could hardly believe I was hearing it. But there was little time to bask in the glow of victory. The opposition had tossed aside their thick oppo books on Romney, and Sarah Palin was barely halfway through her introductory speech in Ohio when the brickbats began to fly.

Strangely, the bulk of the criticism the Democrats were directing at Gov. Palin, and at John McCain for asking her to join his ticket, centered around what they insisted was her “thin” resume. I didn’t think they would want to go there, considering that their presidential nominee, Barack Obama, hardly had an extensive portfolio of his own to boast of. But go there they did, inviting comparisons between the GOP’s Number Two candidate and the Democrats’ Number One such as you can find here and here.

But the length of a resume is but one dimension. It is the depth of a candidate’s experience which reveals the value of his or her accomplishments. The nature of Palin’s experience, whether in the public sector or the private is executive experience, while that of Biden and Obama is legislative. Getting right to the point, my writing hero, Mark Steyn, sums it up:

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are more or less the same age, but Governor Palin has run a state and a town and a commercial fishing operation, whereas (to reprise a famous line on the Rev Jackson) Senator Obama ain’t run nothin’ but his mouth.

In the same vein, blogger foutsc observes that:

Sarah Palin has actually run a business and a state government. Mr. Obama hasn’t even run so much as a hot dog stand.

So let’s take a look at what Sarah Palin has done in government. What are her accomplishments?

There is no government closer to the people than at the municipal level. Palin spent eight years in city government, winning a seat on the Wasilla City Council in 1992 mostly thanks to her opposition to tax increases. She went on to serve two council terms from 1992 to 1996. She was elected mayor of the fast-growing Anchorage suburb in 1996 and again in 1999. Mayor Palin had a record of reducing property tax levels, increasing municipal services and attracting new industry to her town. During her tenure in Wassilla, she was elected chair of Alaska’s conference of mayors.

Next for Sarah Palin was service as chair of the Alaska Conservation Committee, a board which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. In this appointive position she began to gain what would become extensive and valuable knowedge and experience in the area of one of America’s most pressing issues – energy. It was in this job where Palin first really demonstrated the toughness, political courage and maverick spirit that would years later so impress presidential candidate John McCain.

According to Fred Barnes:

She resigned in January 2004 as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission after complaining to the office of Governor Frank Murkowski and to state Attorney General Gregg Renkes about ethical violations by another commissioner, Randy Ruedrich, who was also Republican state chairman.

State law barred Palin from speaking out publicly about ethical violations and corruption. But she was vindicated later in 2004 when Ruedrich, who’d been reconfirmed as state chairman, agreed to pay a $12,000 fine for breaking state ethics laws. She became a hero in the eyes of the public and the press, and the bane of Republican leaders.

In 2005, she continued to take on the Republican establishment by joining Eric Croft, a Democrat, in lodging an ethics complaint against Renkes, who was not only attorney general but also a long-time adviser and campaign manager for Murkowski. The governor reprimanded Renkes and said the case was closed. It wasn’t. Renkes resigned a few weeks later, and Palin was again hailed as a hero.

By standing up to the corruption in her own party, as Barack Obama failed to do in Chicago, Palin showed McCain that he had a kindred spirit up north in America’s 51st state.

In 2006, Palin ran for governor and was elected in a landslide. Barnes continues:

With her emphasis on ethics and openness in government, “it turned out Palin caught the temper of the times perfectly,” wrote Tom Kizzia of the Anchorage Daily News. She was also lucky. News broke of an FBI investigation of corruption by legislators between the primary and general elections. So far, three legislators have been indicted.

In the roughly three years since she quit as the state’s chief regulator of the oil industry, Palin has crushed the Republican hierarchy (virtually all male) and nearly every other foe or critic. Political analysts in Alaska refer to the “body count” of Palin’s rivals.

“The landscape is littered with the bodies of those who crossed Sarah,” says pollster Dave Dittman, who worked for her gubernatorial campaign. It includes Ruedrich, Renkes, Murkowski, gubernatorial contenders John Binkley and Andrew Halcro, the three big oil companies in Alaska, and a section of the Daily News called “Voice of the Times,” which was highly critical of Palin and is now defunct.

As governor, Sarah Palin’s list of accomplishments lengthened rapidly. She used her line-item veto to cut $268 million from Alaska’s state budget.

She stood up to some of Alaska’s most entrenched interests, including three big oil companies (BP, ConocoPhilips, and ExxonMobil) who hold the lease rights to much of Alaska’s oil and gas wealth:

Once in office, Palin took an aggressive stance toward the oil companies. Her nickname from high-school basketball, “Sarah Barracuda,” was resurrected in the press. Early in her term, she shocked oil lobbyists when she was so bold as to not show up when Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson came to Juneau to meet with her. Palin, after scrapping Murkowski’s deal, would not give Big Oil the terms they wanted, yet insisted that the companies still had an obligation under their lease to deliver gas to whatever pipeline Alaska built. She invited the oil companies to place open bids to build a pipeline, but they refused. A bid by TransCanada, North America’s largest pipeline builder, was approved by the legislature in August.

Palin also raised taxes on oil companies after Murkowski’s previous tax regime produced falling revenues in 2007, despite skyrocketing oil prices. Alaska now has some of the highest resource taxes in the world. Alaska’s oil tax revenues are expected to be about $10 billion in 2008, twice those of previous year. BP says about half its oil revenues now go to taxes, when royalty payments to the state are included. Earlier this week, Palin approved gas tax relief for Alaskans, and paid every resident $1,200 to help ease their fuel-price burden.

To be sure, it would be an overstatement to brand Palin as an enemy of Big Oil. Her husband works as a production supervisor for BP. And her support for drilling in the Alaska Natural Wildlife Reserve, as well as exploiting Alaska’s natural gas resources, certainly won’t endear her to environmentalists. “Personally, I have respect for the industry,” she said in an interview with Fortune last year, “for the contributions it’s made to our state … and great respect for what their CEOs are doing. We know their mission, to take as much as possible and leave as little behind.”

But it does take a special person to go from small-town mayor and hockey mom to standing up to the world’s biggest corporations. Despite a stint as chairman of the state’s Oil and Gas Commission, she’d never done business on a remotely similar stage. When Fortune last year asked Palin if she was intimidated, she said simply, “No. Being reasonable commercial operations, I expected the Big Three will act responsibly.”

In that same interview, she said she intended to change Alaska’s relationship with “the lower 48.” She saw part of her responsibility as delivering her state’s natural gas to those hungry markets. “We’re still too reliant on the federal government,” she said. She canceled Alaska’s support for the “Bridge to Nowhere,” a proposed $320 million bridge to sparsely populated Gravina Island, that Senator Ted Stevens, now under indictment for public corruption, famously included in the federal budget.

Palin was also critical of Washington’s attitude towards the pipeline project. She said last year she had written a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney asking for help with the pipeline, but didn’t receive a response. President Bush did send an envoy to Alaska to help get the project going, but Palin still felt the approval process was unwieldy. “So many federal agencies and permitting processes,” she told Fortune. “It’s mind-boggling.”

Fearlessly battling corrupt Alaskan politicians is one thing, but not allowing Big Oil to push her over is quite another. There’s little wonder McCain was so impressed with this young but highly accomplished governor.

She has proven herself to be a fierce, knowledgeable, and articulate advocate of responsible development of Alaskan resources to benefit not only its own residents — who actually pay among the nation’s highest gasoline prices and have the least access to affordable and clean natural gas — but also the other 49 states. Palin recognizes that this is not just a matter of economic necessity, but ultimately of national security.

Lest one start thinking that Governor Palin is some sort of green-tinged liberal, she has spoken out and brought suit to prevent radical environmentalists from exploiting the issue of naming the polar bear as an endangered species. She’s a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and she has proven, by both word and deed, to be one of the fiercest defenders of human life. Palin is the most popular governor in the United States, and she achieved that honor by making good on her campaign promises.

Some other Palin accomplishments include supporting and signing an ethics bill passed by the Alaska legislature and creating the Alaska Health Strategies Planning Council to find innovative solutions to effectively provide access to, and help reduce the costs of, healthcare.

As governor, Palin is commander of her state’s National Guard. Not content to merely sit on the title, she travelled to Kuwait to learn about her troops’ mission there. On the return trip to Alaska, she stopped in Germany to to visit wounded soldiers in the hospital, an activity that Barack Obama did not see fit to engage in during his own overseas venture, blaming the Pentagon for his snubbing of the wounded.

More accomplishments: Gov. Palin signed a resolution in opposition to the FAA’s plan to increase taxes on aviation fuel, impose user fees and slash airport funding. And speaking of general aviation, before Palin became governor, her predecessor Frank Murkowski had purchsed a Westwind Two business jet for the governor’s use at a $2.5 million price tag, despite the objections from the state legislature and the public. Her first order of business after taking office was to put the jet up for sale.

Palin did keep the governor’s state-owned Chevy Suburban, but she got rid of the dirver, saying it was wasteful for the state to pay someone to drive her around, since she was perfectly capable of driving herself. The governor’s gourmet chef also got changed from a full-time to a seasonal-only basis because Palin considered it a luxury she didn’t think Alaskans should be paying for. Her political enemies called all this “superficial pandering.”

Alaska is the only one of America’s 57… er, make that 50 states which borders on two foreign countries. Sarah Palin is chief executive of our most important energy state, one which lies only a few miles from Russian territory. She has negotiated sensitive agreements on fishing rights and other matters to keep the peace up there. She’s also worked on important trade deals with other countries. She has received foreign heads of state and had discussions with them. Her counterpart on the Democrat ticket, Joe Biden, is touted as something of a foreign policy expert, but he has advocated such radical and bizarre notions as partitioning Iraq by religion and sending a no-strings-attached $200 million check to Iran. Palin may not have the long resume of the Senator from Delaware, but neither has she ever advanced such foreign policy foolishness.

There are many benefits to having Governor Sarah Palin on the GOP presidential ticket, and many of them have been already been discussed extensively by both new media and old in the few short days since John McCain introduced her to the GOP faithful in Ohio. They all rest on a rock-solid base of achievement. She is one very accomplished vice presidential nominee.

– JP