Palin Administration Mired in Secrecy and Revenge

[UPDATE: Bonus video – Gov. Palin and Sen. Clinton address the nation on SNL!)

An excerpt from the International Herald Tribune (click to read full article):

WASILLA, Alaska: Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska lives by the maxim that all politics is local, not to mention personal.

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

Havemeister was one of at least five high school classmates Palin hired, often at salaries far exceeding what they had made in the private sector.

When Palin had to cut the 2007 Alaska 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.

Last May, a Wasilla blogger, Sherry Whitstine, who chronicles the governor’s career with an astringent eye, answered her phone to find an assistant to the governor on the line. “You should be ashamed!” Ivy Frye, the assistant, told her. “Stop blogging. Stop blogging right now.”

Palin now walks the national stage of the United States as a small-town foe of “good old boys” politics and a champion for ethics reform. The charismatic 44-year-old governor draws enthusiastic audiences and high approval ratings. And as the Republican vice presidential nominee, she points to her management experience while deriding her Democratic rivals, Senators Barack Obama and Joseph Biden Jr., as speechmakers who never ran anything.

But an examination of her swift rise and record as mayor of Wasilla and then as governor of Alaska finds that Palin’s visceral style and penchant for attacking critics – she sometimes calls local opponents “haters” – contrasts with her carefully crafted public image.

Throughout her career, she 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.

Still, Palin has many supporters. As mayor she paved roads and built an ice rink, and as governor she pushed through higher taxes on the oil companies that dominate one-third of Alaska’s economy. She stirs deep emotions. In Wasilla, many residents display unflagging affection, cheering “our Sarah” and hissing at her critics.

“She is bright and has unfailing political instincts,” said Steve Haycox, a history professor at the University of Alaska. “She taps very directly into anxieties about the economic future.”

“But,” he added, “her governing style raises a lot of hard questions.”

Palin declined to grant an interview for this article and she did not respond to written questions. The McCain-Palin campaign responded to some questions on her behalf and on that of her husband, while referring other questions to the governor’s spokesmen, who did not respond.

Interviews show that 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. (Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she sued the U.S. government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Steiner that it would cost $468,784 to process his request.

When 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 trouble, records show.

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

Legislators in Alaska are currently investigating accusations that Palin and her husband pressured officials to fire a state trooper who had gone through a messy divorce with Palin’s sister, which she denies. But interviews make clear that the Palins draw few distinctions between the personal and the political.

Last summer, Representative John Harris, the Republican speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, picked up his phone and heard the voice of Todd Palin. The governor’s husband sounded edgy. Todd Palin wanted to know why Harris had hired John Bitney as his chief of staff. Bitney was a high school classmate of the Palins and had worked for the governor. But she fired Bitney after learning that he had fallen in love with another longtime friend.

“I understood from the call that Todd wasn’t happy with me hiring John and he’d like to see him not there,” Harris said. “The Palin family gets upset at personal issues,” he added. “And at our level, they want to strike back.”

…..

As mayor, Palin presided over a city that was rapidly outgrowing itself. She passed a road and sewer bond, cut property taxes but raised the sales tax, and loosened the reins on enforcing zoning laws. And, Palin’s supporters say, she cleaned out the municipal closet, firing veteran officials to make way for her own team. “She had an agenda for change and for doing things differently,” said Judy Patrick, a City Council member.

But there was a human cost. The mayor quickly fired the museum director of the town, John Cooper, saying that she was eliminating that job. Later, she sent an aide to the museum to tell the three employees there that “they only wanted two,” recalled Esther West, one of the three employees. “We had to pick who was going to be laid off,” West said. The three women quit as one.

Days later, Cooper recalled, a vocal conservative, Steven Stoll, sidled up to him. Stoll had supported Palin and had a long-running feud with Cooper. “He said: ‘Gotcha, Cooper. And it only cost me a campaign contribution.”‘

Stoll said that he did not recall that conversation, although he did say that he contributed to Palin’s campaign and that he was pleased that she fired Cooper.

In 1997, Palin fired the longtime city attorney of Wasilla, Richard Deuser, after he issued the stop-work order on a home being built by Don Showers, another of Palin’s campaign supporters.

Your attorney, Showers told Palin, is costing me lots of money. “She told me she’d like to see him fired,” Showers recalled. “But she couldn’t do it herself because the City Council hires the city attorney.” Palin told him to write to the council members to complain.

Meanwhile, Palin pushed the issue from the inside. “She started the ball rolling,” said Patrick, the city council member, who also favored the firing. Deuser was soon replaced by Kenneth Jacobus, general counsel of the state Republican Party. “Professionals were either forced out or fired,” Deuser said.

Palin, meanwhile, imposed a gag order on city employees, demanding that they not talk to the press. And she used city money to buy a white Suburban for her use, a vehicle employees sarcastically called the mayor-mobile.

The new mayor also tended carefully to her evangelical base. She appointed a pastor to the town planning board and she began to closely study the contents of the local library. For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books that they considered immoral.

“People would bring books back censored,” recalled John Stein, the three-term mayor of Wasilla that Palin defeated. “Pages would get marked up or torn out.”

Witnesses and contemporary news accounts state that Palin asked the local librarian to take certain books off the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says that Palin never advocated censorship.

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