Palin wins bipartisan kudos in first month

Political insiders say governor a welcome change to predecessor

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2007

A month into Republican Sarah Palin's term as governor, you'd expect members of her own party to be singing her praises. What may be surprising is that even Democrats are finding nice things to say.

And politicians from both sides of the aisle seem to agree that she's a welcome change from her predecessor, former Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Murkowski, for example, negotiated a gas line contract for the state, but a Legislature led by his own party refused to approve it.

Palin pledged a change when she took over. A day after her swearing-in, she was meeting with oil company representatives to get the negotiations off to a new start.

"My intention is to work with the Legislature, not against them," she said.

Other actions have caught the attention of political insiders as well.

"I was very impressed that with a million other things to do, she took the time to visit New Stuyahok to better understand the problems there," said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau. Five residents of the tiny village, 52 miles northeast of Dillingham, died of alcohol-related causes in 2006.

"I think the tone and tenor have been very good so far," Elton said.

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Elton noted that after August, when FBI agents raided offices of several members of the Legislature, many members developed a newfound interest in ethics.

Palin, however, showed a willingness to take on powerful members of her own party on ethics issues before it was politically expedient to do so.

Two of Palin's first major decisions involved bills sent to her by the Legislature during its fourth and final session, which was called by Murkowski.

Both dealt with the controversial issue of benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. One confusing measure was vetoed as unconstitutional. Another bill for a statewide advisory vote on the issue won the governor's approval.

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Legislators on the winning as well as the losing sides of the bills declined to criticize.

Juneau's Elton, who fought both bills, praised Palin for vetoing the one he said was clearly unconstitutional. And while he said he wished she hadn't approved the advisory vote, he pointed out that it was consistent with her campaign promises.

"She disagrees with me on how we ought to deal with the benefits issues, but she's doing it in a way that's not disagreeable," he said.

Elton, who locked horns repeatedly with Murkowski, was optimistic.

"Maybe I'm looking for silver linings too much, but I think were are going to have a much more civil session," he said.

Palin's new cabinet, while not complete, is also winning praise. One widely acclaimed appointment was former Anchorage Police Chief Walt Monegan as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

"Some (appointments) have been very good," said House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez. "I think the jury is still out on others."

One of the more surprising Palin appointments was Mat-Su lawyer Talis Colberg as Attorney General. He was little known in political circles before Palin appointed him to head the Department of Law.

"I understand many people may not know him," said Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. "I've known him for a number of years.

Stevens called Colberg a "highly principled person," and said that when more people get to know him they'll consider the appointment a wise decision.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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