Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Palin Media Advisor Talks About Governor Palin

Sarah Palin, a Friend of Mine

I see in her the grit, resolve and complete lack of political pretense that brought Teddy Roosevelt to power a century ago.

People around the world are asking, “Who is Sarah Palin?” I thought you might appreciate an analysis from someone who has worked with John McCain’s pick for Vice President.

Before I wrote Why Men Hate Going to Church, I was a full-time television producer in Anchorage, Alaska. I did quite a bit of political consulting in election years. Sarah came to me in 2002 and asked me to produce media for her Lt. Governor campaign. I knew right away she was a different kind of politician. She was confident but not arrogant. She was down-home approachable, yet sophisticated. She seemed utterly uninterested in the trappings of power, yet ambitious to wield power for good. As cameras rolled for her first commercial, I knew that Sarah Palin was a gifted communicator.

And she was a savvy negotiator. At our first meeting she made it clear she would be running a shoestring campaign. She told me she liked my work and wanted me to produce her electronic media, but she had no fat cat donors to bankroll her run.

I don’t cut my rates for anybody. But I did what Christians are supposed to do: I went home and prayed about the decision. Frankly, I didn’t expect an answer. God doesn’t usually prompt me regarding my business decisions. But in the case of Sarah I had an immediate impression that I should help her, and that I was not to worry about the money. I called Sarah the next day and signed on for her long-shot campaign.Sarah Palin attends David Murrow's book signing

Sarah has been a guest in my home. She’s had dinner with my family and I’ve been to her house in Wasilla to film one of her commercials. We’ve worked together through the pressures of the campaign season. We took a moment to stop and pray when the campaign got tough. Sarah also encouraged me to complete my first book, and came to a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Anchorage in 2005 (see photo).

Her rapid rise in politics is a direct result of her unwavering moral compass. Sarah makes her decisions based on one criterion: what’s the right thing to do? In 2003, Gov. Frank Murkowski offered her an appointment to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. (I advised her not to take the position. She ignored my advice, and took the job anyway.) Shortly after taking her seat on the commission, she noticed that one of her fellow commissioners, Randy Reudrich, was doing political business on state time. Reudrich was (and still is) chairman of the state Republican party. Randy controls the flow of money to Republican candidates.

Once a year all political appointees in Alaska are required to sign a conflict of interest statement. Part of the statement requires commissioners to report any violation by their colleagues. Sarah felt she had no choice but to tell the truth about Reudrich’s abuses, even though she would be turning in a fellow Republican. In the days following her allegations many who follow Alaska politics (myself included) thought Sarah had committed political suicide. But her courageous stand against corruption endeared her to the citizens of Alaska.

In 2006 Sarah Palin decided to run for governor. You have no idea what a quixotic mission this was. To win elections in Alaska a candidate must gather the backing of at least one powerful group: the oil industry, the media or the labor unions. Sarah had none of these. Nevertheless, she won the Republican nomination handily. In the general election, the power groups stepped up their opposition. The media dismissed her as a lightweight (and too conservative). The oil industry and labor unions backed her Democratic challenger. Even her own Republican Party (under the control of Reudrich) offered only token support. In the end only one group stood behind her: the people. She rolled to victory and began cleaning house.

Sarah tightened the states ethics laws. She sponsored an ingenious new tax regime on the oil industry, sweeping away a law passed a year earlier under the taint of corruption. And she jump-started Alaska’s long-stalled dream of a natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48 states. Instead of begging the big oil companies to build a pipeline (as her predecessor had) she opened the process for competitive bidding. Today, Alaska has two groups competing to build the line, with a possible third group waiting in the wings. She enjoys an 80+ percent approval rating here in Alaska.

Most politicians learn early in their careers to carefully parse every word that flows from their mouths. Not Sarah. She has a tendency to speak her mind, and say things that might one day come back to haunt her. More than once I’ve rolled my eyes and thought to myself, Sarah, why did you say that? But our governor keeps following that moral compass –- and comes up smelling like a rose. All the controversy that’s swirling around her this week is vintage Sarah. I’ve seen this movie before, and it always ends the same way: with Sarah Palin standing taller than ever.

The last time I saw Sarah was about two months ago. She was here in my hometown of Chugiak, with her newborn son Trig, walking around a local craft fair on a Sunday afternoon. I was struck by the simplicity of it: the Governor of Alaska, visiting a craft fair with no media entourage, no security guards, no big crowd. Just a mother and son enjoying a beautiful Alaska summer day. We had a nice talk about everything except politics.

As far as her religious beliefs go, Sarah is your garden-variety evangelical Christian. She’s a woman of genuine faith, but not a zealot or weirdo. She has not hidden her faith during her term as governor, but neither has she worn it on her lapel. I think that’s a good thing.

So, is she ready to lead the free world? I have no doubt Sarah Palin would be a tough-as-nails negotiator during any political crisis. She’s stood up to corruption in her own party. She’s stared down Exxon and won. Heck, even she got me to lower my production rates! I see in her the grit, resolve and complete lack of political pretense that brought Teddy Roosevelt to power a century ago. I think she’s ready to be Vice President, and will be prepared to assume the Oval Office if the need arises.

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