Mean girl

Sarah Palin has a way of using "old boys" -- then dumping them when they become inconvenient.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Sarah Palin, John McCain, R-Ariz., Ted Stevens,

Mean girl

Before Sarah Palin decided to run for the Wasilla mayor’s office in 1996 against incumbent John Stein, the Palins and Steins were friends. John Stein had helped launch Palin’s political career, mentoring the hockey mom during her 1994 run for City Council, along with veteran council member Nick Carney. Stein’s wife, Karen Marie, went to aerobics classes with Palin.

But when she announced her candidacy for Stein’s seat, vowing to overturn the city’s “old boy” establishment, a different Sarah Palin emerged. “Things got very ugly,” recalled Naomi Tigner, a friend of the Steins. “Sarah became very mean-spirited.”

The Wasilla mayor’s seat is nonpartisan, and Mayor Stein, a former city planner who had held the post for nine years, ran a businesslike campaign that stressed his experience and competency. But Palin ignited the traditionally low-key race with scorching social issues, injecting “God, guns and abortion into the race — things that had nothing to do with being mayor of a small town,” according to Tigner.

Palin’s mayoral campaign rode the wave of conservative, evangelical fervor that was sweeping Alaska in the ’90s. Suddenly candidates’ social values, not their ability to manage the roads and sewer systems, were dominating the debate. “Sarah and I were both Republicans, but this was an entirely new slant to local politics — much more aggressive than anything I’d ever seen,” said Stein, looking back at the election that put Palin on the political map.

There was a knife-sharp, personal edge to Palin’s campaign that many locals found disturbing, particularly because of the warm relationship between Palin and Stein before the race.

“I called Sarah’s campaign for mayor the end of the age of innocence in Wasilla,” said Carney.

Even though Palin knew that Stein is a Protestant Christian, from a Pennsylvania Dutch background, her campaign began circulating the word that she would be “Wasilla’s first Christian mayor.” Some of Stein’s supporters interpreted this as an attempt to portray Stein as Jewish in the heavily evangelical community. Stein himself, an eminently reasonable and reflective man, thinks “they were redefining Christianity to mean born-agains.”



The Palin campaign also started another vicious whisper campaign, spreading the word that Stein and his wife — who had chosen to keep her own last name when they were married — were not legally wed. Again, Palin knew the truth, Stein said, but chose to muddy the waters. “We actually had to produce our marriage certificate,” recalled Stein, whose wife died of breast cancer in 2005 without ever reconciling with Palin.

“I had a hand in creating Sarah, but in the end she blew me out of the water,” Stein said, sounding more wearily ironic than bitter. “Sarah’s on a mission, she’s an opportunist.”

According to some political observers in Alaska, this pattern — exploiting “old-boy” mentors and then turning against them for her own advantage — defines Sarah Palin’s rise to power. Again and again, Palin has charmed powerful political patrons, and then rejected them when it suited her purposes. She has crafted a public image as a clean politics reformer, but in truth, she has only blown the whistle on political corruption when it was expedient for her to do so. Above all, Palin is a dynamo of ambition, shrewdly maneuvering her way through the notoriously compromised world of Alaska politics, making and breaking alliances along the way.

“When Palin takes credit for knocking off the old-boy network in Alaska, it drives me crazy,” said Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage businessman and radio talk show host who ran against her in the 2006 GOP primary race for governor. “Sarah certainly availed herself of that network whenever it was expedient.”

With its frontier political infrastructure and its geyser of oil money, Alaska has become as notorious as a third-world petro-kingdom. In recent years, scandal has seeped throughout the state’s political circles — and at the center of this widening spill is Alaska’s powerful patronage king, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, and wealthy oil contractor Bill Allen.

Despite Palin’s reform reputation, she has maintained a delicate relationship with Stevens over the years — courting his endorsement for governor, then distancing herself after his 2007 federal indictment on corruption charges, and then cozying up again when it appeared he might survive politically. As for Allen — the former oil roughneck whose North Slope wealth has greased many a palm in Alaska — Palin found nothing wrong with his money when she ran for lieutenant governor in 2002.

But once a powerful patron becomes a major liability, Palin is quick to jettison him. Alaska state Rep. Victor Kohring, another key Palin supporter during her political rise in Mat-Su Valley, found this out after he became a victim of the FBI’s oil corruption sting operation. Kohring, who used to accompany Palin on her campaign jaunts, angrily points out that he was abandoned by his fellow Christian conservative before he even went to trial. The former Alaska legislator, who now resides in the Taft minimum security prison outside Bakersfield, Calif., communicated his views of Palin through his friend, Fred James. Kohring, said James, feels “betrayed” by Palin.

“After Vic’s indictment, she didn’t give him the time of day,” said James. “She never went to him personally and asked if the charges were true. This is a man who helped her get started in government. She turned her back on him well before he even went on trial. Vic resents the hell out of that. He thinks she’s an opportunist, pure and simple. She saw how the press were moving on Vic, and even before he had his day in court, she called on him to resign his office. He regarded that as a great insult, a personal betrayal.”

Palin’s reputation as a reformer stems primarily from her headline-grabbing ouster of state GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for flagrant conflict-of-interest abuses. At the time, Palin was heralded in the press as a whistle-blower, but it was later revealed that she was guilty of the same charge that she had brought against Ruedrich — using state office equipment for partisan political business. (While still mayor of Wasilla, she sent out campaign fundraising appeals from her office during her race for lieutenant governor.)

Others suspect that Palin had self-serving reasons for taking on Ruedrich and resigning her seat on the commission. The state energy panel had ignited a public firestorm in Palin’s home base, Mat-Su Valley, by secretly leasing sub-surface drilling rights on thousands of residential lots to a Colorado-based gas producer. Outraged farmers and homeowners, who woke up one morning to find drilling equipment being hauled onto their land, were in open revolt against the commission. While Palin initially supported the leasing plan, she was shrewd enough to realize it was political suicide to alienate conservative property owners in her own district. According to some accounts, she was also growing tired of commuting to state offices in Anchorage and poring over dry, tedious technical manuals for her job. All in all, it seemed like the right move to jump ship — and going out a hero was an added plus.

“Sarah quit the commission to make political hay,” Halcro asserted.

In the end, Ruedrich admitted wrongdoing and settled the ethics case by paying $12,000 in civil fines. But Palin did not drive the well-connected Republican operative into exile. In fact, he remains the party’s state chairman and he could be seen on the floor of the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., hugging the newly crowned vice-presidential candidate and cheering her feisty speech against greedy old boys like, well, him.

“The idea that Sarah shook up the state’s old-boy network is one big fantasy, it’s complete bullshit,” Halcro said. “She got all this public acclaim for throwing people who backed her under the bus — but she only did it after they became expendable, when she no longer needed them.

“The good old boys in Alaska are still the good old boys — they’re alive and kicking. Randy is still running the Republican Party — he wasn’t happy about being turned into a national poster boy for corruption, but he went along with the program. Ted Stevens is still running for reelection. And [scandal-tainted Alaska Rep.] Don Young is, too. So where’s the new era of change that Palin supposedly brought to Alaska?”

David Talbot

David Talbot, the founder of Salon, is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years.” He is now working on a book about the legendary CIA director Allen W. Dulles and the rise of the national security state.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>