Thursday, November 6, 2008
Palin returns to Alaska, urged to mend fences
By Yereth Rosen – Thu Nov 6, 3:02 pm ET
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – After two months sharpening her conservative rhetoric on the U.S. presidential campaign trail, Gov. Sarah Palin returned to Alaska a star in the Republican party, but weakened at home where people had known her as more centrist.
Palin's "pit bull" campaign persona and her strident pitches to the conservative base of the Republican Party were a stark contrast to her nonpartisan, populist style as governor, leaving raw feelings among some Alaskans, experts said.
As speculation of a presidential run in 2012 builds, an editorial in Thursday's Anchorage Daily News asked which Palin will return to Alaska: the pragmatic centrist who was wildly popular at home or the highly partisan politician who drew huge crowds to campaign rallies across the United States?
"Her obligations as governor point her in one direction. Her national ambitions point her in another," the Anchorage Daily News said in an editorial.
Prior to joining Republican presidential candidate John McCain on the ticket, Palin boasted the highest approval rating of any U.S. governor, winning favor with her tough stance toward oil companies and championing a handsome payout to all Alaskans as a windfall from high oil prices.
Palin returns to an Alaska where oil prices are less than half the record highs that padded the state treasury with surpluses and where critics have launched various ethics probes alleging misuse of public funds and abuse of power.
This week, a state panel cleared Palin of wrongdoing in the abuse-of-power investigation.
She first ruffled some feathers in her introductory speech on August 29, when she claimed credit for killing the notorious "Bridge to Nowhere" - a contradiction of her past support for the project and her claim, during the 2006 gubernatorial race, that the nickname for the proposed bridge was insulting.
Her claims about cutting Alaska's budget and the size of government also did not sit well with critics since both ballooned under her watch as oil prices surged.
"A lot of people have been stung, or felt stung," said state Sen. Reggie Joule, an Inupiat Eskimo from the northwest town of Kotzebue and part of a mostly Democratic coalition that backed Palin's initiatives on crucial oil and gas issues.
Even her reference to the "Joe Six-Pack" constituency was considered poor form by some Alaskans and insensitive because of the historic ravages of alcohol abuse here, especially in Native villages.
'GET THICK SKINS'
Palin arrived back in Alaska late on Wednesday, greeted by cheering supporters at the Anchorage international airport. She downplayed concerns about how hurt feelings in the state legislature could make it difficult for her to govern.
"Nobody should have hurt feelings. My goodness, this is politics. Politics is rough and tumble, and people need to get thick skins, just like I've gotten," said Palin.
Palin still remains popular in Alaska but her once-stratospheric approval rating has slipped. As of late October, it was down to a 64 percent from a high of 89 percent, according to Anchorage pollster and consultant Ivan Moore.
The key to Palin's success in Alaska has been a focus on popular stances that cut across party lines.
Palin increased oil production taxes and promoted a natural gas pipeline that would, if built, be independent of the major North Slope oil producers that have dominated the energy industry in Alaska and have been blamed for exercising undue influence over the state's politicians.
"The reality of the situation is that Sarah was very strategic in going after things that the public agreed with," said state Rep. Paul Seaton, a moderate Republican from Homer.
"If she continues on that course of selecting issues that have broad public approval, all the same people will agree that these are good for Alaska and will work together again."
(Editing by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Jackie Frank)