The political career of Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential pick, has been marked by conflicts, score-settling and her own claim that she faces “enemies — powerful enemies.”
But the 44-year-old first-term Alaska governor is a favorite of right-wing Christian groups and was hailed Friday by one organization as “a true Christian” who is “pro-life and pro-marriage.” She also has favored the teaching of creationism in Alaska’s schools.
After the surprise announcement Friday, the McCain campaign tried to frame Palin as a reformer who has taken on corruption in Alaska. However, an examination of her career as a small-town mayor and inexperienced governor reveals an official prone to petty squabbles and personal retaliation.
In 1996, after winning the election to be mayor of Wasilla, then a town with a population of 5,000, Palin sought to oust six department heads because they had signed a letter supporting the previous mayor, their old boss.
Palin ultimately fired two of them, the police chief and the museum director, and pushed two others into quitting.
In 1997, some residents considered her actions so high-handed that they tried to initiate a recall election.
“Four months of turmoil have followed in which almost every move by Palin has been questioned,” the Associated Press reported in a Feb. 11, 1997 dispatch. “Critics argue the [Palin] decisions are politically motivated.”
Wasilla’s ousted police chief, Irl Stambaugh, sued Palin that year for alleged contract violation, wrongful termination and gender discrimination The police chief claimed Palin fired him not for cause but for being disloyal and because he was a man whose size – 6 feet and 200 pounds – intimidated her.
However, the recall election never got off the ground, and a federal judge rejected Stambaugh’s lawsuit.
Now, as Alaska’s governor, Palin is under investigation for allegedly ousting Alaska public safety commissioner Walt Monegan because he refused to fire a state trooper entangled in a divorce and custody battle with Palin’s sister.
That probe also is examining whether Palin’s extended family, including her husband, and members of her staff tried to pressure Monegan to fire state trooper Mike Wooten because of the divorce.
Monegan told the Anchorage Daily News that the governor’s husband, Todd Palin, showed him the work of a private investigator, who had been hired by the family to dig into Wooten’s life and who was accusing the trooper of various misdeeds, such as drunk driving and child abuse.
In early August 2008, the state legislature agreed to investigate the circumstances surrounding Gov. Palin’s firing of Monegan. She initially welcomed the probe and denied that she had put pressure on Monegan.
Later, however, Palin acknowledged that there had been more than two dozen inquiries from her staff to the public safety department regarding trooper Wooten, though Palin still insisted she had no role in them.
Gov. Palin also released an audio recording of her director of state boards and commissions, Frank Bailey, pressing police Lt. Rodney Dial in February 2008 about why no action had been taken against Wooten.
Besides the prospect of more embarrassing disclosures about Palin’s thin government record, McCain’s VP choice also undercuts his campaign’s theme that Barack Obama lacks the foreign-policy experience to be Commander in Chief, since Palin is a virtual unknown on the international stage.
However, as the first woman on a Republican national ticket, she potentially appeals to angry Hillary Clinton supporters and to so-called values voters who pushed McCain to choose a running mate who is against abortion and gay marriage.
“John McCain is to be commended on his choice of Sarah Palin, a true Christian for Vice President,” said Dr. Gary Cass, Chairman and CEO of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission.
“Palin, an evangelical who is pro-life and pro-marriage, meets all the criterion that CADC set forth for a VP pick. Unfortunately, Obama chose Joe Biden, a liberal Catholic, who is not in compliance with Christian moral teaching on abortion or homosexuality.”
Cass was particularly relieved that McCain did not tap former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon, or Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Jew.
“Will [McCain] pick a pro-choice Republican or perhaps a moderate Mormon or a liberal Jew?” Cass said in an earlier statement of concern that was echoed by other conservative Christian organizations nationwide.
“Unless McCain picks a true Christian for Vice President, real conservative Christians are being disenfranchised from this presidential election,” Cass warned. “Obama missed a great chance to reach out to Christians. Now we will see if McCain will let conservative Christians have someone we can vote for, not just vote against.”
On Friday, other conservative Christian groups also celebrated Palin’s selection.
“The country now has a clear choice,” said Darla St. Martin, Co-Executive Director of the National Right to Life Committee, “between an avowed pro-abortion ticket that would continue to push for unrestricted abortion on demand, and a strongly pro-life ticket that will bring us closer to a society that embraces the value and dignity of human life.”
Palin is staunchly opposed to both same-sex marriage and granting benefits to same-sex partners. When a state court ruled last year that civil unions are to be permitted for same-sex couples, Palin balked, and called for the state constitution to be amended to in an attempt to upend the ruling.
She also has favored the teaching of creationism in schools along with evolution. “Teach both,” Palin said in 2006. “Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”
Still, many political observers wondered if Palin’s limited — and checkered — career as an official in a lightly populated state like Alaska might prove to be a liability for McCain.
Following her two terms as mayor of Wasilla, Palin made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination in 2002.
Then, as chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, she fell into a public spat with fellow commissioner Randy Ruedrich, the state’s GOP chairman.
In 2003, she reported Ruedrich to Gov. Frank Murkowski’s administration, saying she suspected him of an ethics breach in conducting work for the state GOP on government time.
To obtain evidence of Ruedrich’s alleged malfeasance, Palin hacked into his computer, an ethical lapse in its own right. She resigned from the commission in January 2004.
But Palin’s ethics complaint against Ruedrich gave her a reputation as an anti-establishment reformer at a time when the Alaskan Republican hierarchy was coming under scrutiny for corruption.
For two years, she stayed out of politics, acquiring a business license for a marketing and consulting company named Rogue Cou, “a classy way of saying redneck,” Palin told the Anchorage Daily News in a June 2005 interview.
Palin also faced questions about hypocrisy in the vendetta that she waged against Ruedrich when it turned out that, as mayor of Wasilla, she had used her office computer for political purposes.
“We wondered how her using a city computer to run for lieutenant governor in 2002 was different than Republican Party chief Randy Ruedrich using Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission computers for party business, for which he was fined and resigned under pressure. She said it was different,” the Anchorage Daily News wrote in a July 14, 2006, editorial.
“In a release [Palin] fired off to everyone she could think of after the questions, she huffed about a ‘smear’ campaign organized by her ‘enemies — powerful enemies.’ Later, there were references on various radio talk shows to whispering campaigns and other craziness, but we wrote that off as the vapors and a touch of paranoia.”
The editorial continued: “She characterized as ‘innocuous’ her political e-mails sent on a city computer to the Alaska Outdoor Council and another complaining about the Right to Life folks not choosing her as their candidate in the 2002 race.
“That was bad enough, indicating she just does not get it, but then she had this to say: ‘We’ve had lots of people come forward with dirt on (gubernatorial candidate John) Binkley . . . as well as dirt on (Gov. Frank) Murkowski. We’ve told them to bury it. I’m not running that type of campaign.’
“Apparently, that is exactly the kind of vicious campaign the former two-term Wasilla mayor is running. In our view, that kind of backdoor character assassination is the most scurrilous type of attack.” the Anchorage Daily News wrote. “Oh, I have dirt, Palin says smugly, yes, indeedy; but I’ll not give the details because that would be wrong. She is right. It is very wrong. It is very much the hallmark of lightweight politicians in over their heads.”
Now, however, John McCain has proposed putting Palin in a position within a proverbial heartbeat of the presidency.