Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sarah Palin's governing style--hire friends, destroy foes, and maintain secrecy

This is a chilling New York Times story revealing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's governing style:

WASILLA, Alaska — Gov. Sarah Palin lives by the maxim that all politics is local, not to mention personal.

So when there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, she appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency.

Ms. Havemeister was one of at least five schoolmates Ms. Palin hired, often at salaries far exceeding their private sector wages.

When Ms. Palin had to cut her first state budget, she avoided the legion of frustrated legislators and mayors. Instead, she huddled with her budget director and her husband, Todd, an oil field worker who is not a state employee, and vetoed millions of dollars of legislative projects.

And four months ago, a Wasilla blogger, Sherry Whitstine, who chronicles the governor’s career with an astringent eye, answered her phone to hear an assistant to the governor on the line, she said.

“You should be ashamed!” Ivy Frye, the assistant, told her. “Stop blogging. Stop blogging right now!”

Do you see a pattern here? Sarah Palin's governing style consists of three distinctions. First is that Sarah Palin packed the Alaskan government with friends and cronies--regardless of their qualifications. Second is that Sarah Palin consulted with her husband, Todd, on legislative issues. And third, Sarah Palin used the political power of the governor's office to personally attack her enemies. Sarah Palin is a politician that "walks the national stage as a small-town foe of “good old boy” politics and a champion of ethics reform." However her record as mayor of Wasilla and then Alaska's governor, shows that Palin "has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials." According to the NY Times, Mayor Palin fired a city attorney for placing a stop-work order on a builder's housing project, after the builder complained to Palin. There is the Troopergate scandal, where Gov. Palin fired Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, when he failed to fire Palin's brother-in-law from the Alaskan state police. There is the book-banning incident, where Mayor Palin attempted to fire Wasilla head librarian Mary Ellen Emmons, on three occasions, when Emmons refused to cooperate on Palin's inquiries to ban certain books. Then there was the incident of Gov. Palin's firing of her chief of staff, John Bitney, after it was revealed that Bitney had an affair with a close Palin friend. If you cross Sarah Palin, she will personally destroy you.

But there is even more in this NY Times story on Sarah Palin's governing style. Palin places extreme loyalty and secrecy in her administration:

Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records.

Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process.

When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.

“Their secrecy is off the charts,” Mr. Steiner said.

Their secrecy is off the charts. A Sarah Palin vice presidency would be a continuation of Dick Cheney's legacy--a vice presidency consisting of lies, distortions, secrecy, and unaccountability:

While Ms. Palin took office promising a more open government, her administration has battled to keep information secret. Her inner circle discussed the benefit of using private e-mail addresses. An assistant told her it appeared that such e-mail messages sent to a private address on a “personal device” like a BlackBerry “would be confidential and not subject to subpoena.”

Ms. Palin and aides use their private e-mail addresses for state business. A campaign spokesman said the governor copied e-mail messages to her state account “when there was significant state business.”

And what is worst is that this secrecy and unaccountability will continue into a Sarah Palin presidency--an even greater nightmare prospect than the Bush administration.

There is even more. While Sarah Palin champions herself as a reformer of government corruption, she has surrounded herself with friends and cronies. According to the NY Times:

As she [Palin] assembled her cabinet and made other state appointments, those with insider credentials were now on the outs. But a new pattern became clear. She surrounded herself with people she has known since grade school and members of her church.

Ms. Palin chose Talis Colberg, a borough assemblyman from the Matanuska valley, as her attorney general, provoking a bewildered question from the legal community: “Who?” Mr. Colberg, who did not return calls, moved from a one-room building in the valley to one of the most powerful offices in the state, supervising some 500 people.

“I called him and asked, ‘Do you know how to supervise people?’ ” said a family friend, Kathy Wells. “He said, ‘No, but I think I’ll get some help.’ ”

The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government. Ms. Palin appointed Mr. Bitney, her former junior high school band-mate, as her legislative director and chose another classmate, Joe Austerman, to manage the economic development office for $82,908 a year. Mr. Austerman had established an Alaska franchise for Mailboxes Etc.

It is disturbing how the Wasilla High School Yearbook has now become the "veritable directory" of Gov. Palin's administration. This shows the blatant hypocrisy of Sarah Palin calling herself a government reformer, when she's packing the government with her high school cronies. Going through this NY Times article, it is clear that a Sarah Palin vice presidency would become even worst than anything Dick Cheney has ever dreamed up. Sarah Palin is a vindictive, petty, corrupt, dishonest, little politician who will bring the worst out in government if she is elected into office. And again, it is not just the vice president's office here--Sarah Palin will be one heartbeat away from the presidency. And if John McCain selected such a disreputable character as Sarah Palin to be his running mate, what does that suggest about John McCain's qualifications, and his judgement, to be president?

Update: The Washington Post has a story on Sarah Palin's governing as mayor of Wasilla. First, Palin's duties as Wasilla's mayor were restricted by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, a regional government for central Alaska which controlled Wassila's firefighting department, and the school districts. The state had jurisdiction over social services, environmental regulations, and building projects. According to the Washington Post:

With so many government services in the state subsidized by oil revenue, and with no need to provide for local schools, Wasilla has also made do with a very low property tax rate -- cut altogether by Palin's successor -- sparing it from the tax battles that localities elsewhere must deal with. Instead, the city collects a 2 percent sales tax, the bulk of which is paid by people who live outside town and shop at its big-box stores.

The mayor oversees a police department created three years before Palin took office; the public works department; the parks and recreation department; a planning office; a library; and a small history museum. Council meetings are in the low-ceilinged basement of the town hall, a former school, and often the only residents who show up to testify are two gadflies. When Palin was mayor, the population was just 5,500.

Palin limited her duties further by hiring a deputy administrator to handle much of the town's day-to-day management. Her top achievement as mayor was the construction of an ice rink, a project that landed in the courts and cost the city more than expected.

Wasilla's mayor didn't have much responsibility in governing, considering that the firefighting and schools were out of the mayor's jurisdiction. And yet, Palin limited her mayoral duties even further by hiring a deputy administrator to handle her day-to-day activities. So what did Sarah Palin do as mayor? One thing she did was to fire her political opponents:

Palin took office as mayor in October 1996 with a show of force. She fired the museum director and demanded that the other department heads submit resignation letters, saying she would decide whether to accept them based on their loyalty, according to news reports at the time. She clashed with Police Chief Irl Stambaugh over his push for moving bar closing time from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. and for his opposition to state legislation to allow people to carry guns in banks and bars.


Palin also differed with the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons. The Frontiersman reported at the time that Palin asked Emmons three times in her first weeks in office whether she would agree to remove controversial books. The librarian said she would not. The McCain campaign has confirmed Palin's questions but said that she never demanded removal of any specific books. Palin also fired Emmons on Jan. 30 but reinstated her after an uproar.

Although the town had a $4 million surplus, Palin cut the museum budget by $32,000, and the three older women who worked there quit instead of deciding which would have to go. But Palin dipped into the budget to create the deputy administrator slot, which some council members complained was at odds with her small-government stance. She told city officials not to talk to reporters.

A recall effort in early 1997 fizzled out, but hard feelings lingered. "Working in small towns, I had never seen someone come in and clean house like that in such a precipitous manner. It was pretty scary and emotional," said [Duane] Dvorak, the city planner [when Palin took office], who left after eight months.

Sarah Palin hired her political cronies:

Palin's replacements included a public works director who lacked engineering experience but was married to a top aide to a former Republican governor, and she made a former state GOP lawyer city attorney, according to the Daily News. [Darlene] Langill, the former councilwoman [and a self-described arch-conservative who served on the City Council during Palin's first year in office], said the new hires fit Palin's management style.

"Sarah always did and still does surround herself with people she gets along well with," she said. "They protect her, and that's what she needs. She has surrounded herself with people who would not allow others to disagree with Sarah. Either you were in favor of everything Sarah was doing or had a black mark by your name."

Secured federal earmarks for Wasilla:

Further buttressing the budget were the earmarks Palin sought for the town after hiring a Washington lobbyist for $38,000 a year. The town secured $27 million in all, including $1.9 million for a transportation hub, $900,000 for sewer repairs and $15 million for a rail project.

And buit a hockey ring, boondoggled by high debt and a court challenge:

Some in town had for years pressed the city for a new space for the cramped library. Palin, who calls herself a "typical hockey mom," instead focused on building a sports complex with an NHL-size rink. In 2002, by a 20-vote margin, voters approved a $14.7 million bond to be financed by a half-cent sales tax hike.

Palin had forged ahead with the project despite a lingering legal dispute over whether the city had ownership of the land. A judge had initially ruled in the city's favor, but it later lost on appeal and had to pay $1.3 million more for the land.

"The only accomplishment of note was the building of the sports complex . . . and it was bungled," said [Richard] Deuser, the former city attorney.

Do we really want this woman to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?

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