Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes
Gov. Sarah Palin proves to be good to her friends and unforgiving to her enemies.
Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes Heath Family, via Associated Press
The Wasilla City Council, with Sarah Palin, the future governor and vice-presidential nominee, at the center, in a 1998 photograph. Throughout her career, Ms. Palin has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and blurred the line between government and personal grievance.
By JO BECKER, PETER S. GOODMAN and MICHAEL POWELL Published: September 13, 2008
This article is by Jo Becker, Peter S. Goodman and Michael Powell.
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.
In real life, she may not be what she is selling to the voting public.
s. Palin walks the national stage as a small-town foe of “good old boy” politics and a champion of 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 R. Biden Jr., as speechmakers who never have run anything.
But an examination of her swift rise and record as mayor of Wasilla and then governor finds that her visceral style and penchant for attacking critics — she sometimes calls local opponents “haters” — contrasts with her carefully crafted public image.
Throughout her political 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, Ms. Palin has many supporters. As a two-term mayor she paved roads and built an ice rink, and as governor she has pushed through higher taxes on the oil companies that dominate one-third of the state’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.”
Ms. Palin declined to grant an interview for this article. The McCain-Palin campaign responded to some questions on her behalf and that of her husband, while referring others to the governor’s spokespeople, who did not respond.
Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell said Ms. Palin had conducted an accessible and effective administration in the public’s interest. “Everything she does is for the ordinary working people of Alaska,” he said.
Gov. Palin's style could be compared to the current Preident Bush.
In Wasilla, a builder said he complained to Mayor Palin when the city attorney put a stop-work order on his housing project. She responded, he said, by engineering the attorney’s firing.
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.
Some charge things get a bit personal, above and beyond "Troopergate".
Last summer State Representative John Harris, the Republican speaker of the House, picked up his phone and heard Mr. Palin’s voice. The governor’s husband sounded edgy. He said he was unhappy that Mr. Harris had hired John Bitney as his chief of staff, the speaker recalled. Mr. Bitney was a high school classmate of the Palins and had worked for Ms. Palin. But she fired Mr. 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,” Mr. Harris said.
“The Palin family gets upset at personal issues,” he added. “And at our level, they want to strike back.”
Through a campaign spokesman, Mr. Palin said he “did not recall” referring to Mr. Bitney in the conversation.
Ms. Palin ordered city employees not to talk to the press. And she used city money to buy a white Suburban for the mayor’s use — employees sarcastically called it the mayor-mobile.
Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.
But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.
“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”
“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”
In addition to the trooper investigation, lawmakers in April accused her of improperly culling thousands of e-mail addresses from a state database for a mass mailing to rally support for a policy initiative.
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.”
On Feb. 7, Frank Bailey, a high-level aide, wrote to Ms. Palin’s state e-mail address to discuss appointments. Another aide fired back: “Frank, this is not the governor’s personal account.”
Mr. Bailey responded: “Whoops~!”
Mr. Bailey, a former midlevel manager at Alaska Airlines who worked on Ms. Palin’s campaign, has been placed on paid leave; he has emerged as a central figure in the trooper investigation.
Last summer, Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage, a Democrat, pressed Ms. Palin to meet with him because the state had failed to deliver money needed to operate city traffic lights. At one point, records show, state officials told him to just turn off a dozen of them. Ms. Palin agreed to meet with Mr. Begich when he threatened to go public with his anger, according to city officials.
At an Alaska Municipal League gathering in Juneau in January, mayors across the political spectrum swapped stories of the governor’s remoteness. How many of you, someone asked, have tried to meet with her? Every hand went up, recalled Mayor Fred Shields of Haines Borough. And how many met with her? Just a few hands rose. Ms. Palin soon walked in, delivered a few remarks and left for an anti-abortion rally.
The administration’s e-mail correspondence reveals a siege-like atmosphere. Top aides keep score, demean enemies and gloat over successes. Even some who helped engineer her rise have felt her wrath.
Dan Fagan, a prominent conservative radio host and longtime friend of Ms. Palin, urged his listeners to vote for her in 2006. But when he took her to task for raising taxes on oil companies, he said, he found himself branded a “hater.”
As Ms. Palin’s star ascends, the McCain campaign, as often happens in national races, is controlling the words of those who know her well. Her mother-in-law, Faye Palin, has been asked not to speak to reporters, and aides sit in on interviews with old friends.
At a recent lunch gathering, an official with the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce asked its members to refer all calls from reporters to the governor’s office. Dianne Woodruff, a city councilwoman, shook her head.
“I was thinking, I don’t remember giving up my First Amendment rights,” Ms. Woodruff said. “Just because you’re not going gaga over Sarah doesn’t mean you can’t speak your mind.”