Over the past few weeks we Alaskans have been scratching our heads over the interesting claims the McCain campaign has made about our Governor. A lot of them have been news to us. Governor Palin’s nomination to the McCain ticket has created unusual common ground for Alaskans. Whether we support her or not, we’ve been furrowing our eyebrows a lot lately as we watch the McCain campaign re-write Alaska history.
As a legislator who’s both agreed and disagreed with Governor Palin, I know some of her positions are difficult to sell. Some are not. But to avoid that whole messy thing of explaining controversial positions, the spin doctors running the McCain campaign are doing what got George Bush elected. Many campaigns spin in the gray areas, where the truth isn’t clear. But the McCain campaign’s taken a page from Karl Rove, and decided to spin past the margins. They’re pitching the verifiably false as true.
During the August Republican National Convention, Alaskans heard for the first time that our Governor opposed a national symbol of federal pork, what folks in the Lower 48 call the "Bridges to Nowhere." We didn’t know that. In her 2006 Governor’s campaign, when her opponents took the risk of telling boomers these two bridges might be too expensive – candidate Palin said she supported them – and said she’d work to get more Congressional money for them.
Now the campaign has a new line, that Governor Palin "told Congress thanks, but no thanks" for this money. That’s a problem. See, she never could have said that. Congress debated our Alaska’s request for $400 million in bridge money in 2004 and 2005, before Palin was elected Governor. A national outcry against these projects, at a time when a Republican Congress was pushing pork over effective relief for Hurricane Katrina’s victims, forced Congress to re-write this earmark. Alaska ultimately got the money in 2005, but the Congressional language requiring that we spend it on these bridges was deleted. We said thank you. Governor Palin never opposed this funding. She never offered to return it when she took office in 2007.
Then there’s the claim by Senator McCain that our Governor has been a "maverick" fighting federal earmarks. We didn’t know that either. Alaska takes more federal earmarks per capita than any state in the country. Governor Palin asks for them. She, like her predecessors, happily accepts them. Alaska’s budget contains hundreds of millions in earmark dollars. Alaska politicians love earmarks, and campaign on their ability to get them.
We also heard at the Convention that Governor Palin’s been a budget cutter. But in Governor Palin’s two years as Governor state spending has gone up by 20%. She did veto projects, and I supported those vetoes. But after vetoes, there’s still been a 20% budget hike. Depending on your views, a 20% spending increase might be defensible. It’s not defensible to make people believe you cut the budget when you didn’t.
Here’s what else I know about my state. We have the third worst children’s health insurance program in the nation. The Governor wouldn’t support cost-effective measures to extend insurance to the 10,000 children of Alaskan working parents who cannot afford coverage. She campaigned against a recent proposal to prevent large strip mines from spilling toxic chemicals into Alaska’s salmon waters – something that’s raised the ire of fishermen and Alaska Natives in remote Southwest Alaska communities. Thirty-five to forty percent of our kids don’t graduate from high school, and we can’t convince Governor Palin to join the 41 other states that have accepted the science showing statewide pre-k education helps kids succeed when they don’t have other good options at home.
There are a lot of important issues to discuss this campaign. They should be debated honestly. So far, as Senator McCain’s joined Barack Obama’s call for change, he’s only succeeded at changing the truth.
Les Gara is an Alaska State Representative from Anchorage. He’s a former State Assistant Attorney General, and has been in office since 2003.