One of the most common refrains from Sarah Palin's critics after John McCain picked her as his running mate was "We don't know her." Though she is governor of Alaska, America's biggest state, she's certainly not a household name and her political history prior to being governor is on such a small scale that it can seem impenetrable. All people seemed to know was the cartoonish campaign-hyped "hockey mom" who was so brilliantly lampooned by Tina Fey over the weekend on Saturday Night Live. (By the way, did you notice how several other sketches also found a way to subtly slight Palin? Those SNL kids must hate her.)
But over the weekend the New York Times and Washington Post published in-depth reports about Palin's rise to power, from quick-learning city councilwoman in Wasilla to secretive, friend-appointing governor of Alaska. After the jump, what you need to know about the moose-hunting politician whose path to the vice-presidential nomination left behind a trail of bad blood.
When she ran for mayor of Wasilla, she campaigned against an incumbent — who wanted to raise taxes slightly to improve roads and services — by appealing to those who resisted change. The moment she landed in office, reports the Washington Post, she "fired the museum director and demanded that the other department heads submit resignation letters, saying she would decide whether to accept them based on their loyalty." She also fired the librarian (who was later reinstated) and ordered city officials not to talk with reporters. As mayor, Palin actually didn't handle battles over property taxes (the town didn't have them), and her own school district was managed regionally. Her duties included overseeing "the public works department; the parks and recreation department; a planning office; a library; and a small history museum." Still, according to the Washington Post, Palin "limited her duties further by hiring a deputy administrator to handle much of the town's day-to-day management." Her biggest achievement was building an ice rink (instead of a much-needed new library), which ended up ensnared in legal battles and cost the town more than anticipated. Oh, and she spent city money to buy herself a white suburban that everyone mockingly called "the mayor-mobile." (Left unreported was whether or not she put it on eBay when she became governor).
During her run for governor, since she was inexperienced on state policy issues, she skipped several candidate forums and attended others with color-coded index cards hidden behind her nameplate. If she becomes president, Office Depot should use her in their ad campaigns for the next 100 years.
As governor, Palin appointed friends and was brutal to enemies, according to the Times, which gave us this little gem on Saturday:
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.
Havemeister was one of five of Palin's chums from school who received government positions. Meanwhile, her husband, Todd, serves as an unofficial but close policy adviser. The paper also discovered that Palin insisted on an intense level of secrecy in her administration — frequently using personal e-mail addresses for herself and her staff to conduct state business, thereby keeping certain communications away from federal subpoena access. As governor, she is also very hard to nail down for in-person appointments, preferring to communicate by e-mail or press release. Also, she totally lied about polar bears being endangered.
Meanwhile, according to the Boston Globe, there could be trouble ahead for Palin on the home front. As two GOP politicians, Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young, run for reelection, Palin may be forced to outline whether she supports them. They're both struggling due to ties with corruption scandals, and the governor has so far declined to endorse them or rivals.