October 31, 2008

The best friend Sarah Palin ever had

 Tony Hopfinger, former Anchorage Press editor and a brilliant Alaskan journalist who now writes for Newsweek and operates the Alaska Dispatch site with Amanda Coyne, has a couple of interesting new Palin tidbits.

First, Hopfinger recounts a source telling him about a visit by Palin to the home of former Veco CEO and convicted felon Bill Allen. The source, a former Veco employee, says the meeting took place in 2001, the summer before Palin’s unsuccessful run for Lt. Governor (she lost to The Undertaker - Loren Leman). Palin received at least $5,000 in campaign contributions from Allen and his employees during that race.

According to Hopfinger’s source, Palin and Allen shared a bottle of wine during the visit. I wonder if she drove home?

Second, Hopfinger poses a question that came up in the newsroom here in Homer as soon as Palin officially called on Ted Stevens to resign.

Is Palin setting herself up to take Ted’s seat?

Such an act, the legalities of which are being pondered by the Department of Law, would be even more arrogant than Frank Murkowski appointing his daughter to fill his own seat in 2002.

Which brings me to a point of my own.

I have stayed out of the Palin fray for the most part since she was chosen as McCain’s running mate - partly because my role at the Homer News has only enough room for me to do stories like this on the subject, but mostly because I didn’t really have anything to add that wasn’t being said by someone else.

I’ve met Palin a few times and interviewed her on my radio program, going back to the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary. She’s a charming person - affable, friendly and a good interview. She did, in 2006, strike me as someone who didn’t know enough about oil and gas issues (particularly the state of gasline negotiations at that time) to be a truly qualified governor, but she also struck me as someone with more than enough charisma to overcome her lack of substance and win – which she did, handily.

And, to be fair, she has come a long way on oil and gas issues in her brief time as governor, proving that she can be a quick study.

There is one thing, however, that I felt – and still feel – the national media is missing when it comes to discussing the enigmatic Sarah Palin:

Frank Murkowski.

Alaskans, regardless of political stripe, know that if there were no Frank Murkowski, there would likely be no Sarah Palin. Murkowski was the most unpopular governor Alaska, or maybe even the country, has ever had – so unpopular, in fact, that he came in a distant third in his own party’s primary in 2006. From the longevity bonus to secret gasline negotiations with the oil companies to the “Bald Ego” state jet, Frank Murkowski’s one term as governor was an unmitigated disaster.

By the end of it, he had approval ratings in the low teens and was almost universally despised. He has since disappeared from public view – save a couple of bizarre appearances – and will likely not return unless he is indicted by the Feds for his associations with Bill Allen and the CBC (his former chief of staff, Jim Clark, has already pled guilty).

It’s crucial to remember, I think, that Sarah Palin rode in on the shattered mess that was the Murkowski administration and was, simply, in the right place at the right time. It’s not that she had nothing to do with her own meteoric rise – she is truly focused and ambitious – but it took very special circumstances for her to get to where she is.

You could say the same thing for Sean Parnell who, if Palin does indeed find a way to take over Stevens’ Senate seat, is my best bet to become our next governor.