Gov. Palin Has Reputation For Independence

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is a hot ticket at the GOP convention. Palin, 44, is a former state champ in high school basketball and the mother of five. She's an independent who differs with John McCain on the issue of drilling in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge.

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More now on Sarah Palin, her personal story and her tenure as governor of Alaska. A few weeks ago, NPR's Martin Kaste spent some time with her at the state house in Juneau.

MARTIN KASTE: Alaska's modest capital building looks a lot like an old-fashioned middle school, and going to see the governor up on the third floor feels a little like a trip to the principal's office, but it's less intimidating.

For starters, there's the baby swing by the governor's desk. Palin says her 7-year-old daughter loves showing off her baby brother to state officials.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): We just had a cabinet meeting over at the House, so of course she has to come plopping down the stairs carrying the baby to show everybody (unintelligible). I'm like, oh my gosh.

KASTE: Palin has sort of a gee-whiz manner that instantly puts you at ease unless you happen to be a lobbyist.

Gov. PALIN: I don't let lobbyists come into my office.

KASTE: Apparently, it's a pretty strict rule.

Gov. PALIN: I've had about two lobbyists, two, maybe three lobbyists, who have snuck in with a group of people, so I can't say they've never been in, but we don't invite lobbyists in.

KASTE: Palin attracted national attention for her efforts to clean up Alaska's political system, following a major corruption scandal. The FBI has been investigating the oil industry's influence on the state legislature, and three lawmakers are now in jail for bribery.

Add to that, Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, on trial next month for allegedly hiding gifts from oil executives. All are Republicans.

Gov. PALIN: There's been some evidence of some in the Republican Party just taking it for granted that power and authority was given them, and that's been very, very, very unfortunate. It's been embarrassing.

KASTE: In this year's congressional race, Palin refused to endorse Don Young, the Republican who's represented Alaska for 35 years. Instead, she backed one of his challengers. The primary election was Tuesday, but the vote was so close it may take weeks to declare a winner.

Governors don't usually oppose incumbent congressmen of their own party. Palin says she sees the same independent streak in John McCain.

Gov. PALIN: I think McCain is known as a maverick, and that's why I love McCain. He has risen above the obsessive partisanship, and I say right on, more power to him.

KASTE: But last month, before she knew she'd be picked as VP, Palin also admitted that she doesn't always agree with McCain on everything.

Gov. PALIN: We do differ on opening ANWR and some of the energy issues.

KASTE: Drilling for oil in ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is something that almost all Alaska politicians support, Palin included. McCain has compared it to drilling in the Grand Canyon. But his new running mate says Alaska should be ramping up production to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

Alaskans generally support Palin's program, and they like how she's tried to press the oil companies to share more of the wealth with the state. Still, some consider her a policy lightweight, and they're shocked that she was even considered for vice president.

Mr. ANDREW HALCRO (Blogger): You know, I'm sorry, really? I mean a heartbeat away from the presidency?

KASTE: Political blogger Andrew Halcro ran against Palin in 2006 as an independent Republican.

Mr. HALCRO: What I saw on the campaign trail was I saw nine months of glittering generalities. Whenever I tried to call her on those during debates, boy, the backlash was just amazing.

KASTE: Halcro also says Palin's clean image is something of an illusion. He points to evidence suggesting the governor may have tried to get her sister's ex-husband fired from his job as a state trooper. Palin denies this, but the legislature has now commissioned an investigation. The report may come out in October, just as the McCain-Palin ticket is heading into the campaign homestretch.

In Alaska, some of the kindest words about Palin come from Democrats. Beth Kerttula is the minority leader in the state house.

State Representative BETH KERTTULA (Democrat, Alaska): I think of Governor Palin more as a populist, really, than being part of any political party.

KASTE: Kerttula sounds almost pleased to have this particular Republican upstairs in the governor's office.

State Rep. KERTTULA: It's a relief having a woman in that position because you can see that Governor Palin is just herself. You know, she had a baby, she has family stuff, she has things she has to deal with every day, but she's still right there leading.

KASTE: Outside Palin's office is the Hall of Governors, a row of portraits dating back to the days of the Alaska territory. Her picture is on the end. And next to some of those old guys, her smiling face is quite a contrast. It's a contrast Alaskans like, and now the question is: will the same effect work on the national stage?

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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Sarah Palin, A Fresh Face For The GOP

An Outsider In Alaska

"Well, I really want people to say, 'Yeah, the risk was worth it in giving an outsider a shot.'"

 

— Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in an NPR profile (December 2006)

From The NPR.org Archives

"The recently elected governor of Alaska is 44, the mother of five, and a former state champ in high school basketball. She is truly mediagenic, strongly pro-life and full of spunk. But can McCain say Obama lacks experience but that Sarah Palin is ready to be a heartbeat away? Can he turn over Dick Cheney's office to someone whose only previous office was mayor of Wasilla?"

 

—NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving, 'Watching Washington' (June 12, 2008)

Sarah Palin is no stranger to the "maverick" label often assigned to Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate who has selected her to join him on the GOP ticket. Alaska's youngest and first female governor has pushed for ethics investigations of fellow Republicans in her state and bucked the powerful oil industry on a major natural gas pipeline project.

When she ran for governor in 2006, she ran as an outsider and an agent for change. But she's also an anti-abortion, pro-gun fiscal conservative — something sure to please the Republican base.

Rooted In Local Politics

The 44-year-old Palin is a fresh face on the national political scene. But she has participated in local and state politics for much of her adult life. She was elected to the Wasilla City Council in 1992, running against tax increases in the Anchorage suburb. Four years later, she was elected mayor of the city, which has grown rapidly although its population is still under 10,000. Palin held the mayor's job until 2002 and in 2003 was named chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Palin was elected governor three years later despite her outcast status in the Republican Party. Her campaign theme was a defiant one — "Take a Stand." She won a three-way primary race against incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski and former state Sen. John Binkley, then went on to defeat former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.

As governor, Palin says she's tried to instill public confidence in the government of a state that's been shaken by political scandals. She won't invite lobbyists to her office and has introduced ethics reform legislation. One of her first acts as governor was to kill the now infamous "bridge to nowhere" pork-barrel spending project. And she put the former governor's personal jet up for sale on eBay.

An Outsider's 'Fresh' Start

In an interview with NPR soon after taking office as governor, Palin said her outsider status had pros and cons. "The kind of a disadvantage of being an outsider is you don't know all the players. The advantages are you get to start fresh. You get to start with ideals, and it's worth it."

Palin continues to defy her party. She refused to endorse longtime Republican Congressman Don Young in this year's primary, backing one of his challengers instead. But critics say that Palin is politically naive and more show than substance. In recent weeks she's been dogged by questions over her firing of a state official who refused to dismiss a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce and child custody battle with her sister.

Palin graduated from the University of Idaho in 1987 and worked for two years as a television sports reporter before becoming a co-owner of a commercial fishing operation. She's also owned an outdoor recreational equipment company. Palin was crowned Miss Wasilla in 1984 and also competed in the Miss Alaska pageant. She likes to hunt, ice fish, ride snowmobiles and eat moose burgers.

'Barracuda' On The Basketball Court

Palin also played basketball in school. She was on the Wasilla state championship girls basketball team in 1982. Her nickname on the court was "Sarah Barracuda," for her style of play.

Palin is the mother of five children, including one born earlier this year with Down syndrome. Her oldest son enlisted in the Army last year and is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq next month.

David Welna and Cathy Shaw contributed to this report.

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