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In Surprise Move, McCain Taps Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as Running Mate

StorySeptember 01, 2008
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Republican candidate John McCain has shocked political analysts and even members of his own party with the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential nominee. The forty-four-year-old Palin becomes the first woman to ever run on a Republican presidential ticket. Her surprise choosing came as a shock to political observers who hadn’t even put her in contention. Palin has been Alaska’s governor for less than two years. Prior to that, she served as mayor of Wasilla, a town of less than 10,000 people. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican candidate John McCain has shocked political analysts and even members of his own party with the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential nominee.

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: She is exactly who I need. She is exactly who this country needs to help me fight — to help me fight the same old Washington politics of me first and country second.

AMY GOODMAN: The forty-four-year-old Sarah Palin becomes the first woman to ever run on a Republican presidential ticket. Her surprise choosing came as a shock to political observers who hadn’t even put her in contention. Palin has been Alaska’s governor for less than two years. Prior to that, she served as mayor of Wasilla, a town of less than 10,000 people.

Even members of her own party and family questioned her experience. The Republican president of Alaska’s state senate, Lyda Green, said she thought the news was a joke. Green said, “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?” Palin’s mother-in-law said, “I’m not sure what she brings to the ticket other than she’s a woman and a conservative.”

McCain has defended the choice and called Palin his “soul-mate.” On Friday, Palin said her selection marked a victory for women.

    GOV. SARAH PALIN: It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.

AMY GOODMAN: Many political analysts say McCain is hoping to capture alienated Hillary Clinton supporters, while reaching out to the evangelical right. Palin is a prominent member of Feminists for Life and has described herself as “pro-life as any candidate can be.” She is also an active member of the National Rifle Association. On environmental issues, Palin supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opposes the classification of polar bears as endangered species and believes humans have not caused global warning.

Palin is currently at the center of a controversy in Alaska known as Troopergate. She is accused of firing Alaska’s public safety commissioner because he refused to fire Palin’s former brother-in-law, who worked as a state trooper.

Richard Mauer is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News who has been covering Alaskan politics for twenty-five years. He joins me now on the phone from Alaska.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about Sarah Palin? Give us a thumbnail sketch of who she was. And you’re a longtime reporter, have been reporting for about a quarter of a century. Can you — were you surprised when you heard John McCain’s pick for vice president?

Are you there?

Well, we’re going to try to fix the phone line, but as we do, I thought I’d switch gears for a moment. When we came into St. Paul to cover the Republican National Convention, we went to the baggage claim, coming off the plane, and I met a number of reporters, including Jon Stewart, and if you missed my conversation with Jon Stewart on our expanded two-hour broadcast, you can go to our website at [democracynow.org]. I also bumped into New York Times columnist David Brooks, who was at the airport, as well. I asked him about McCain’s choice of Palin for the vice-presidential nomination.

    DAVID BROOKS: I don’t know what to think. I’m sort of vaguely impressed by her record as governor, taking on oil, taking on the Republicans, a reformer. I can see why he picked her. But if she screws up, if she doesn’t have the natural national ability, he’s finished. So I don’t know what to think. It’s a roll of the die.

    AMY GOODMAN: The possibility of the convention happening as yet another Hurricane Katrina, or Gustav?

    DAVID BROOKS: You can tell me what God wants. My view is that McCain should go down to New Orleans, grab onto a light post Geraldo-style and, you know, do the speech sort of sideways, vertical, holding on while the wind blows him. No, I —- you know, it’s a chance for them to make some gesture about Katrina.

    AMY GOODMAN: Obama’s speech, the stadium, 84,000 people?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I’m in the minority among people in Denver. I thought it was A—/B+. I thought it was a good speech. The forcefulness was really good. I thought the policy part dragged a little, was conventional, as far as I could see. And then the post-partisanship was sort of the tail end, which I didn’t think was as moving as I’ve felt it before. So it was a — God knows it was a good speech, but by Obama standards, I thought a little below his best.

AMY GOODMAN: David Brooks of the New York Times at the airport in Minneapolis.

As we turn now to Richard Mauer again, we’ll see if we can hear him on the line from Alaska. He’s a reporter with the Anchorage Daily News. Richard Mauer, were you surprised by the pick? You’ve been covering Alaska politics for twenty-five years.

RICHARD MAUER: I think everyone here was shocked. It was — people were pretty stunned. Everyone was getting calls from their friends and relatives outside at 6:00, 7:00 a.m. It was shocking.

AMY GOODMAN: Give us thumbnail sketch of Sarah Palin, how she started in public life and what her record is from mayor to governor.

RICHARD MAUER: Well, everyone knows that she was mayor of Wasilla, which is a fairly small town north of Anchorage. I’m sure she has a — people in Wasilla are very familiar with it. Actually, she begins her public life as a basketball star for the girls’ basketball team, which won a state championship. She was the coach — not the coach, she was the captain of the team. But then, after that, she was the mayor of Wasilla.

After she left that, she was appointed to a position as the chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is a fairly obscure state agency that is supposed to monitor oil wells, oil fields for both safety and production. And her fellow — one of her fellow commissioners was a guy named Randy Ruedrich, who was the state Republican chairman. Eventually, some employees were complaining that Mr. Ruedrich was using his time in office to run the Republican Party. Sarah Palin was the ethics person on — for that particular agency. She was asked to investigate. She did, made a case, and eventually Randy Ruedrich was forced to leave that position and was fined — had the biggest fine ever for an ethics violation for an executive branch employee. So that really thrust her into public life as a person who was concerned about corruption, who was willing to challenge her own party.

So when she decided to run for governor against the incumbent, Frank Murkowski, who was — had been a sitting US senator since 1980, who became governor, was a one-term governor, a lot of people didn’t give her much of a chance at that point. She was still relatively unknown, very little experience. Yet Alaska was starting to go through this anti-corruption phase, and that was a large part of her campaign. She ran and knocked him off in the primary. A few days later, this big FBI corruption investigation burst on the scene with raids in legislative offices. And the timing of the two was just perfect for Sarah Palin, and she was elected governor.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the whole Alaska political corruption scandal with the Stevens — Stevens, senator, Stevens, congressman, father and son — and how this contributed to Sarah Palin’s rise in politics?

RICHARD MAUER: Well, certainly it contributed in many, many ways. It helped her get elected governor when the FBI raided six legislative offices in August, a week after the primary. But it also has created this climate of someone needs to do something about what’s going on. The corruption basically involves — centers on an oil field services company which is now defunct in Alaska called VECO, and its longtime chairman Bill Allen. Allen was — pled guilty to giving bribes to legislators. He’s at the center of the case against Ted Stevens for remodeling his house, remodeling Ted Stevens’ house in Girdwood. Don Young, our congressman, is also being investigated for illegal contributions from and other possible payments from Bill Allen and, of course, as you said, Senator Stevens’ son, who is the state senate president.

But Palin, a lot of that — a lot of the case involving the state legislature by the FBI involves an oil tax measure that Bill Allen was trying to ensure would leave the oil companies without much of an oil tax, or as minimum as possible, and that was taking place in 2006, just as the election was occurring. And so, as soon as she got into office, she said, “We’re going to change this oil tax,” and ended up revisiting that issue and greatly increasing the taxes on oil, as well as promoting a natural gas pipeline that the major oil producers opposed.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Mauer, very quickly, since we only have, well, less than a minute, Troopergate, this story of Sarah Palin firing with the public security commissioner because he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, the man who was married to her sister, nasty custody case.

RICHARD MAUER: That’s correct. Now, that’s one version of events. She claims she fired him for — because he was not following her policy. But it’s potentially a major issue. Again, this is one of these things where there’s a potential cover-up, with the cover-up — is that worse than the actual occurrence? And that may be what the current investigation is about.

AMY GOODMAN: And she’s also a strong anti-abortion activist?

RICHARD MAUER: Very much so, but a very — and — but as a great campaigner, and I think McCain is going to see that, as well. She’s a great speaker, very energetic. People really warm to her. She’s great at one-on-one. She’s great on one-on-a-thousand.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Mauer, thanks for being with us, of the Anchorage Daily News.

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