New governor shares Palin's values

Parnell says he'll push higher-profile initiatives

Posted: Monday, July 27, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's new governor, Sean Parnell, says he'll push many of Sarah Palin's higher profile initiatives, such as the natural gas pipeline.

"We share the same core values," said Parnell, who took over the office Sunday after Palin resigned.

But he also noted their personalities are different - a fact that hasn't been lost on the people who deal the most with the governor's office. State lawmakers are looking for a better relationship after a rocky few months with Palin since she returned from the 2008 presidential campaign.

State Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said Parnell's years as a lawmaker in both the state House and Senate should help open communications between the executive and legislative branches.

"I think his understanding of how to communicate is going to do him well. That's one of the things the present governor has struggled with. I think he will just do better at it," Coghill said.

Parnell has already reached out to lawmakers. When he announced he wanted lawmakers to expand the call of the Legislature's Aug. 10 special session beyond confirmation of his choice of lieutenant governor and an attempted override of Palin's veto of some stimulus funds, he told lawmakers his plans first.

"He actually calls us," said state House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. "He's going to make more of an effort that way."

Parnell, 46, was born in Hanford, Calif., in 1962, and moved to Anchorage with his family in 1973, when he was 10. He graduated from East Anchorage High School and Pacific Lutheran University, and earned his law degree from the University of Puget Sound School of Law.

He has practiced law in Anchorage since 1987. Following in the footsteps of his father, Pat, Parnell was elected to the state House in 1992 for two terms. He then was elected to a seat in the Senate, where he was co-chairman of the Finance Committee. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2006.

Two years later, he dramatically and abruptly announced at the state Republican convention that he was challenging U.S. Rep. Don Young in the GOP primary as Young sat in the audience. Young's chance for a 19th term had been damaged by federal investigations into his fundraising activities, and his spending of more than a $1 million in campaign funds on legal fees.

But Parnell conducted a very low-profile campaign and was seen as squandering the opportunity when Young won the primary by only 304 votes.

At the time, Parnell said he didn't ask for a recount partly because he was stepping into more official duties of the governor as Palin campaigned as GOP presidential candidate John McCain's running mate last fall.

Once Palin returned to the state after the bruising national campaign, her relationship with the public and lawmakers changed. Residents began filing ethics complaints against her, and it took a toll on her.

Palin summoned Parnell about 4 p.m. on July 1, asking him to take the short stroll to her plush 17th-floor suite overlooking the city of Anchorage.

Palin and Parnell talked for about 10 minutes as she let him in on a little secret that would have political repercussions in Alaska and beyond: The former vice presidential candidate, the conservative superstar, the possible 2012 White House candidate, was resigning.

It was a decision that was months in the making. But no one in her inner circle who learned of the news could say anything until the official announcement on July 3.

"I was taken aback," Parnell said. "When the governor takes that kind of a step, it's a serious thing. It was clear to me she gave it a lot of thought."

Parnell is not shaking up the cabinet as he steps into office. He's retained Palin's commissioners, but will have to replace Craig Campbell in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs since he's been tapped as Parnell's lieutenant governor.

"The question is, will he be able to assemble people and kind of marshal them in a leadership role?" said Rep. Coghill, who predicts Parnell will do well as governor. "I think he'll be able to do that, but he certainly lacks the kind of pizzazz Gov. Palin has. So that quiet, deliberate leadership, we'll have to see how it works with the administration as it has been assembled."

Parnell said his administration will focus on the economy, which he called the key issue now facing Alaskans.

"The main issue is going to be the economy and making sure that we're positioned for economic growth, making sure that our people have jobs and have jobs in the future," he said. "That's No. 1."

It's a direction he shares with Palin.

"I'm going to continue her focus on economic planning," he said. "I'm going to continue her focus on making sure we have natural gas and energy, cheaper energy for Alaskans."

"Like I said, we share the same core values."

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