Private and Public Infidelities: The Vetting of Sarah Palin

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[Election 2008]

The buzz in the small towns of Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley over
the nomination of Governor Sarah Palin this past week has risen to a
deafening crescendo. It is impossible to escape. Sources there say it
is the topic du jour for everyone in this agricultural haven of the
Last Frontier—Republicans, Democrats and Secessionists alike.

And the real gossip this weekend is focusing on the allegations coming
out of the two small Mat-Su towns of Wasilla and Palmer (based on an
“investigation” headed up directly by the National Enquirer’s Editor in
Chief, David Perel) that Palin had an affair with one of her husband
Todd’s “business partners.”

Original speculation focused on Scott Alan Richter, with whom the Palins
own remote property in Big Lake, Alaska, along with his ex-wife Deborah
Marie “Debbie” Richter (nee Ribelin), who served as Palin’s campaign
treasurer and was subsequently rewarded by Palin as the Director of the
Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division. Only two days ago, Scott Richter
filed court papers, public under Alaskan law, to have his divorce records
sealed. His “emergency motion” was denied.

Much has been speculated about Richter’s recent legal efforts, but according
to sources in Anchorage, Richter is not the focus of the Enquirer’s story.
In many ways he has served as a smoke screen.

The real focus of the Enquirer’s story, according to inside sources, is
46-year-old Brad Hanson, a three-term city councilmember in nearby Palmer.
Currently running in an uncontested race for re-election on October 7,
Hanson also serves as a hockey coach and an assistant football coach at
Palmer High School, where his career has been extremely controversial.

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman has published an array of internet comments
on Hanson over the years, many of which describe him as being a “poor sport,”
“aggressive,” an “immature bully” and a “firecracker that’s waiting to be lit.”
Still others have come to his defense for being “tough, but effective.”

Politically, according to the Frontiersman, one of his objectives as a
councilmember is “to increase the shopping opportunities in Palmer while
maintaining the town’s appeal.” Educated at Northern Arizona University
and the University of Alaska Anchorage, he holds a bachelor’s degree in
finance and an MBA.

His Palmer City Council profile is located here:

According to sources in Alaska, Hanson was a former business partner of
Todd Palin in a Polaris snowmobile dealership in the greater Anchorage area.
I have no idea whether he and Sarah Palin had an affair, as is alleged, in
the mid-1990s when Palin was first elected mayor of Wasilla. Nor do I particularly
care. But sources in Alaska say it has long been rumored that, at minimum,
their “flirtatious” relationship was “inappropriate” and that Todd Palin
responded by ending his business partnership with Hanson: all small-town gossip
in a small-town setting.

End of story.

Or so it would have been, and perhaps should have been, had the McCain-Palin
camp not strangely given the Enquirer a level of credibility and significance
that it would not have had otherwise. Indeed, McCain and his real pit bull,
chief campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, in a rather bizarre and foolish
pre-emptive strike, elevated the charges into a journalistic cause celebre.

“The smearing of the Palin family must end,” Schmidt wrote. “The allegations
contained on the cover of the National Enquirer insinuating that Governor Palin
had an extramarital affair are categorically false. It is a vicious lie. …Legal
action will be considered with regard to this disgraceful smear.”

Let the attorneys from the Enquirer and the Republican Party handle that one.
Americans will be able to judge the story for themselves this coming week when
they are waiting in the checkout lines at their local supermarkets.
But, by far, the more important stories coming out of Alaska—and the ones about
which all Americans should be gravely concerned—are those that focus on Palin’s
public and political infidelities during her tenures as mayor and governor. They
are varied and many.

The official Republican spin coming out of Alaska and the Twin Cities this week—one
that much of the national media shamelessly trumpets without doing their homework—is
that Palin is a “conscientious,” “popular,” and “well-liked” figure in Alaska, and
that Alaskans have “galvanized” around her nomination.


Close examination of her tenure in elected office reveals a complex portrait of
someone not fit to serve as Vice-President of the United States. Her public record
reflects someone who is alarmingly self-serving and recklessly ambitious. Of someone
who uses people for her own political benefit. (Her own mother-in-law, Faye Palin,
also a well-known civic leader in Wasilla, does not support her candidacy.)
In a letter that has had remarkable internet circulation this past week, longtime
Wasilla political activist and Palin watchdog, Anne Kilkenny, who has known the VP
nominee since 1992, called her “savvy” and “energetic” and “hardworking.” But once
Kilkenny got into detail, the portrayal was far from flattering.

“[Sarah] has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help,”
Kilkenny wrote. “The City Council person who personally escorted her around town
introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council became one of
her first targets when she was later elected Mayor. She abruptly fired her loyal City
Administrator; even people who didn’t like the guy were stunned by this ruthlessness.
Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything publicly about her.”

See the entire letter here:

Schmidt and the McCain camp have tried to squelch this political vetting of Palin,
too. And for good reason. The myriad of issues swirling around Palin’s public
record raise significant concerns about John McCain’s judgment and call into question
whether Sarah “Barracuda” Palin, the Republicans’ “pit bull in lipstick,” should be
a heartbeat away from serving as the so-called leader of the free world.

I. Troopergate
Palin, of course, is currently under investigation for the most sordid
administrative behavior—her role in a scandal involving the firing of Alaska Public
Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan over his reluctance to fire an Alaska state trooper,
Mike Wooten—Palin's former brother-in-law who has been involved in a bitter custody
fight with her younger sister, Molly McCann.

There’s an audio tape that confirms interference in the matter by Palin’s staff.
Moreover, Monegan released emails this past week documenting Palin’s attempted

Divorces are, by nature, bitter and messy, and as documents indicate, the Wootens’
divorce was particularly nasty. All of which would have been a private matter had
not Palin used her political position to make it public.

As one Alaska blogger colorfully noted: “It’s all out there in black & white—drunk
driving, foul language, illegal moose hunting, an extramarital affair, neighbors
peeking in windows, private investigators, death threats, snow-machining on sick
days, verbal abuse, and yes, dry tasering an 11-year old so he could see what it
felt like.” It’s trailer-trash soap opera at its worse.

Moreover, Palin and her associates are now refusing to cooperate with an ethics
investigation conducted by the Alaska State Legislature. As a result the Àlaska
Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating Palin’s role in Troopergate,
is now seeking subpoenas to compel seven witnesses to answer questions in the
inquiry. According to Alaska officials, the final report on the matter will be
expedited to come out October 15.

Meanwhile, McCain powerbroker in Alaska, John Coghill, the Republican chairman
of the state House Rules Committee, is seeking to remove the Democratic state
senator in charge of the Palin investigation, Hollis French.

Check out this local televison coverage of the Troopergate scandal:

It does not a pretty picture make.

II. The Bridge to Nowhere Lie
When she was introduced in Ohio as McCain’s running mate, Palin declared:
"I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that ‘bridge to nowhere’," referring
to a proposed bridge from the small fishing village of Ketchikan to Gravina
Island in Southeast Alaska.

It’s a bit of braggadocio that reflects a lot about Palin and her style of

In fact, when Palin ran for governor two years ago, she strongly supported
the bridge. She said it was critical to the town’s “prosperity.”

Palin went so far as to tell Ketchikan voters that she was empathetic with them
for being called “nowhere.” According to the Ketchikan Daily News, Palin postured:
“OK, you’ve got ‘valley trash’ [Palin] standing here in the middle of ‘nowhere.’
I think we’re going to make a good team as we progress [sic] that bridge project.”
But when Ketchikan voters supported her opponent, Palin quickly turned on them.
In a pre-dawn press release that seemed aimed at national news deadlines, Palin
stabbed them in the back. She earmarked the money for other pork projects away
from Ketchikan.

At the same time, Palin is continuing to build a road on Gravina Island
(where the bridge would have connected and where the Ketchikan airport is located)
because Federal funds for the access road (unlike the bridge money) would have
otherwise been required to be returned to Washington.
"I think that’s when [her] campaign for national office began," said Ketchikan
mayor Bob Weinstein this past week regarding Palin’s about face on the bridge.

III. Faux Foe of Taxes and Big Government: The Hockey Rink
McCain and the Republicans have also painted Palin as persistent critic of
special-interest spending and congressional earmarks. McCain described Palin as
“someone who’s stopped government from wasting taxpayers’ money on things they
don’t want or need, and as someone with an outstanding reputation for standing
up to special interests and entrenched bureaucracies.”

But to those who have worked with Palin—in both Wasilla and the state capital
in Juneau—Palin’s fiscal policies are best described as opportunistic.

She supported the explosion of big box stores in Wasilla because they increased
the city’s tax base—at the expense of small town business. And she supported a
significant sales-tax increase for what has turned out to be a fiscal boondoggle,
a new sports complex and hockey rink (perhaps so she would have a place to be
a “hockey mom”).

But as the conservative Wall Street Journal has noted, “What was to be Ms. Palin's
legacy has turned into a financial mess that continues to plague Wasilla.”
The purchase of the land on which the project was built was mishandled under
Palin’s oversight, adding $1.3 million to the original price tag of the land
(nearly ten-times the original price). The total costs for the construction
bond was $14.7 million, at a time when the entire city budget was approximately
$20 million.

While Mayor, Palin hired the powerful Alaska lobbying firm of Robertson,
Monagle & Eastaugh, to secure some $26.9 million in specially earmarked funds
for Wasilla during her final four years in office—this for a town of 6,000.
As governor, Palin continued her pursuit of earmarks for Alaska. The Washington
Post reported that just this past February Palin sent now-indicted Republican U.S.
Senator Ted  Stevens a 70-page memo outlining almost $200 million of new
funding requests, including a $2 million project to research crab productivity
in the Bering Sea.

According to the Associated Press, “In her two years as governor, Alaska has
requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest
per-capita request in the nation.”

IV. A Pattern of Fear and Retribution
While Palin awaits a decision on her ethics probe, her administrative record as
mayor of Wasilla is equally problematic.

Details are now emerging from her record in Wasilla which indicates that she
attempted to seek resignations and/or fire several department heads and top
administrators. One of her victims, former police chief, Irl Stambaugh, described
Palin’s administrative style as being based on “fear and retribution. That’s how
she operates.”

In 1993, Stambaugh, then a Captain of the Patrol Division of the Anchorage Police
Department, was selected over several other candidates to serve as Wasilla’s first
Chief of Police. He developed a sterling reputation in the small community.
When Palin was elected as Wasilla’s mayor in 1996, however, Stambaugh immediately
found himself at odds with the ambitious, often self-aggrandizing Palin.
When the Alaska legislature proposed expanding Alaska’s already liberal laws to
include carrying concealed weapons in schools, banks and bars, Stambaugh and several
other Alaska police chiefs opposed the legislation. “We were simply applying common
sense to the use of guns,” Stambaugh noted. “Even in the Old West, you left your guns
at the door. Guns and booze don’t mix.”

But Palin saw the opportunity to placate extremists in the National Rifle Association
and publicly supported the legislation. When then governor, Tony Knowles, sided with
law enforcement officials and vetoed the NRA-sponsored legislation, Palin came to
Stambaugh and let him know that she didn’t think it was his right to oppose her on
political issues.

Once Palin was elected Mayor of Wasilla, she dropped the hammer on Stambaugh.

While to Stambaugh’s face she told him that he was doing “a wonderful job” and assured
the police chief that she “was not going to fire him,” two weeks after the last assurance
Stambaugh came into his office and found a letter telling him not to come back the
following day.

For a full account of Stambaugh’s firing, see:

Stambaugh eventually sued, but lost after a lengthy three-year court battle, which
found that Palin had the right to fire city department heads at will.

Palin also asked for the resignation of Wasilla’s Public Works Director, John Felton,
who was replaced by Palin with her political crony Cindy Roberts, who had no
engineering background but had extensive Republican Party connections.

V. Censorship
Also finding her head on the chopping block was Wasilla Librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons,
who recoiled against Palin’s attempts at censoring books on the library’s shelves.
A short time later, she received a letter from Palin informing her of “intent to
terminate employment.”

Accounts of this matter vary, but Palin’s firing of Emmons fueled a recall effort
against Palin by a group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Wasilla.

By most accounts, Palin contends that her comments were purely “rhetorical.”
Archives from the Wasilla Frontiersman, however, indicate that Palin brought
the matter up with Emmons three times— beginning before she was sworn in as
mayor— about possibly removing “objectionable books” from the library if the
need arose.

Emmons could not be reached for comment, but according to an interview given
the Boston Globe by Kilkenny, Emmons flatly refused Palin’s forays into censorship,
contending: “The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the
basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would
absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.”

Palin’s comments may or may not have been rhetorical, but the fear of the
recall was real enough: she backed down and allowed Emmons to return to her job.

Stambaugh said that the recall effort eventually dissipated not only because
Palin agreed to reinstate Emmons but, more importantly, because of Palin’s
reputation for political retribution. “People had to worry about their standing
in the community,” he noted. “They had to worry about their jobs, their businesses,
their careers, their families.”

VI. God’s Will
The ever intrepid Cindy McCain, went on ABC’s “This Week” and declared that Palin
knows foreign policy because “Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia.”

But in spite of her state’s proximity to Russia, Palin has never been to her
neighboring country. Nor did she have a passport until last year, when she made
a much publicized trip to Kuwait and Germany, where she visited wounded troops.
But what’s even more disturbing are comments that Palin made about the U.S. war
with Iraq, which Palin called a “task from God,” in a videotaped appearance only
a few months ago at the Wasilla Bible Church.

In the video, which appears on Youtube, Palin declares about U.S. troops in Iraq:
“Our leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God. There is a plan and
that is God’s plan.”

It’s a chilling performance by Palin, one that makes services at Reverend Wright’s
congregation seem nearly mainstream. Where is the public vetting over Palin’s
outlandish political views? Where is the balance?

This past week, Palin has declared that a U.S. victory is "within sight."
The question is: whose sight? The would-be Vice President has never been there.

VII. Tip of the Iceberg
All of this baggage, of course, is just the tip of Palin’s proverbial Alaskan

Palin’s environmental positions are extremely right-wing, many of which put her s
trongly at odds with those of her running mate. Furthermore, her selection discredits
any environmental credentials that McCain may have secured in recent years.

While Alaska is ground-zero in the debate on global warming, Palin has publicly
stated that she doesn’t believe that warming is “man made.” She sees it as an
“act of God.” She filed suit against the Bush administration over the federal
listing of polar bears as a threatened species, saying that her opposition was
based on a "comprehensive scientific review." But when asked to release the
scientific review, she refused. She has supported the hunting of bears and
wolves from helicopters and airplanes.

And then there is the matter of her college career. It’s been reported that
she attended six different colleges over a period of six years, leaving one of
her institutions of higher learning because she apparently didn’t like the weather.
She finally graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Idaho.
So much for her academic pedigree.

Sarah Palin represents the extremes of the Christian right in the country: she
opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. She opposes gay marriage and
spousal rights for gay couples (her church in Wasilla supports the the so-called
"pray away the gay" movement). And she opposes stem-cell medical research.

Apparently, Palin also makes racist and bigoted remarks in public; according to
one unverified report, she recently referred to Barack Obama as “Sambo.”

She also has embraced the values of Alaska’s Independence Party, which has called
 for the secession of Alaska from the union.

In a recent opinion piece appearing in the L.A. Times, Gloria Steinem observed that
Palin“opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She
believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global
warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs;
she opposes stem cell research but approves ‘abstinence-only’ programs, which
increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to
use taxpayers' millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn't
spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation
rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but supports
$500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports
drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, though even McCain has opted for
the lesser evil of offshore drilling. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.”,0,2288253.story

But we needn’t go further than the radical right itself than to find out what they
are really thinking about Palin. Republican political strategist Mike Murphy and
former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan were caught on-air at the Republication
convention trashing John McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate.

Murphy called Palin’s selection and “cynical” and “gimmicky.” Noonan called it
“political bullshit about narrative…Every time the Republicans do that, because
that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it.”

Especially when the narrative is a lie. There’s no small irony (and, perhaps, no
surprise) that this practitioner of so-called “family values” has such a litany of
family problems surrounding her: from child abuse to death threats. Palin has an
uncanny way of attracting personal drama and controversy.

It’s also more than likely that Sarah Heath (cum Palin) was already pregnant when
she and her husband married on August 28, 1988; their son was born on April 20 of
the following year. They have long concocted a story that they ran off and got
married because they were broke; in fact, they were doing it because Sarah was
pregnant. Palin has a long history of covering up the lies

And an affair? As I said, that doesn’t matter. Not really. What Sarah Palin did
in her private life is her business—as long as she and her campaign manager don’t
make it public. So far, these issues have received a higher level of public
scrutiny, in part, because the Republicans have challenged the media’s right to
pursue them.

In less than two months, Sarah Palin, who was virtually unknown to the American
people only a week ago, could be elected Vice President of the United States,
serving under the oldest president ever elected to a first term, a 72-year-old
with a history of recurring melanoma. It’s a rather scary proposition.

John McCain, Steve Schmidt and the rest of the Republican Party bullies will
do whatever they can to thwart an honest and public vetting of Sarah Palin.

But what Palin has done in her public career is our business, and remains
our business, until her shallow and shameful career in American politics is
over. On that score—and for the next 60 days—she must be held accountable.


Black Star News columnist and award-winning filmmaker and journalist Geoffrey Dunn,
Ph. D., is the former recipient of both a John L. Senior Fellowship to the Cornell
University Graduate School of Government and a National Newspaper Association
Award for Investigative Journalism. His most recent film is Calypso Dreams.

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