MADELEINE BRAND, host:
A profile now on another Republican leader: Alaska's new Governor Sarah Palin. In this year's election, she took on two well-known experienced politicians and she beat them both soundly. Now, Sarah Palin is the state's first female governor.
Elizabeth Arnold has this report.
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: In her first few weeks in office, Sarah Palin put the former governor's personal jet on eBay. She stopped construction of a multi-million dollar road to nowhere from the state capitol. And some are expecting she'll even give back the federal money for the infamous bridges to nowhere.
Alaska's newest governor ran as an outsider, a maverick, the candidate of change, and she's apparently, living up to her slogans.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): You know, so far, so good.
ARNOLD: Palin squeezed in a few minutes between back-to-back transition meetings to reflect on the task ahead.
Gov. PALIN: 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.
ARNOLD: Putting fresh faces over experience, Palin raised eyebrows recently for appointing a little known lawyer as attorney general. But perhaps even more important than assembling her cabinet is resuming high-profile negotiations with the oil industry for a natural gas pipeline, a mega project that consumed and perhaps helped defeat the previous governor.
Gov. PALIN: It's a daunting task because there were a lot of blunders in the past administration, how they were going to get that gas line built. A lot of distrust between the public and the oil companies who hold leases to these resources. We have to kind of erase the past mistakes. Learn from those past mistakes and move forward to get a gas line built.
ARNOLD: Palin had entered politics 10 years ago at the age of 32, running for mayor as an outsider against an old boy network, she said, controlled municipal government. She won. But her first few months in office were admittedly rough.
Gov. PALIN: Back then, it wasn't so much a gender issue. I think at the time, but it was an age issue. I was looking back now, I think, dang, I was young. You know, I was.
ARNOLD: As mayor of Alaska's fastest growing region, Palin's fresh young face attracted the attention of the state and National Republican Party. Reflecting on that time, she says, she was a golden child of the GOP. But a few years later, as an appointed member of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission, she gathered evidence and passed on ethics complaints against the Republican Party chairman, also a member of the commission who was doing party business on state time.
She quickly became an outcast. But if she was worried about repercussions, she didn't show it. Over the next two years, she repeatedly took on party leaders. Her gubernatorial campaign theme, Take a Stand, was an obvious reference to her own stand against the Republican Party establishment.
Gov. PALIN: I knew what I was getting into, though, when it came to the personalities involved in the party, and the reality was it was a tough challenge trying to secure my own party's nomination.
ARNOLD: Despite a huge victory against incumbent Governor Frank Murkowski, Palin received little financial help from the state party, which she now shrugs off. She credits her thick skin to reformative years in high school, where she helped her basketball team win the state championship. Her nickname was Sarah Barracuda for her style of play. But she attributes her political success, in part, to Title IX, Leveling the Playing Field for Women.
Gov. PALIN: Because sports, healthy competition, is such a foundational part of my life and my daughters' lives that, you know, I credit so much of what I know now to what I learned in sports. Had I not had opportunities in sports, via Title IX, I cannot imagine what life would be like.
ARNOLD: Much has been made of Palin's personality. She likes to ride snow machines. Her favorite meal is moose burgers. But not that much is known about her personal politics. She was roundly criticized for running more on Sarah Palin than on the details of running government. She was often vague in debates and fuzzy on the specifics of issues. But the voters didn't seem to mind. And now, it's time for Palin to fill in the blanks.
A year from now, she says, she hopes she'll have proven herself.
Gov. PALIN: Well, I really want people to say, yeah, the risk was worth it in giving an outsider a shot.
ARNOLD: Sarah Palin, Alaska's new governor.
For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Arnold.