Some in Ketchikan react to nomination with concern, ire

In acceptance speech as GOP running mate, Palin highlights opposition to Gravina bridge

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008

In a state that's busy gushing about its governor, critics say Ketchikan stands out as the city Sarah Palin abandoned.

In her acceptance speech as McCain's running mate Friday morning, Palin held up her opposition to the bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina - the "bridge to nowhere" - as an example of "the abuses of earmark spending."

"I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' on that bridge to nowhere. If our state wanted a bridge, I said we'd build it ourselves."

Residents of this town of 7,700 wanted the $398 million bridge to access the airport and some of the out-of-room area's only remaining developable land. Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young had secured an earmark of more than $200 million that would have put about $113 million toward paying for the bridge.

"I think in Ketchikan, there's still quite a bit of concern about the Palin administration," said Mayor Bob Weinstein. "Number one, we don't think we're nowhere. And number two, when she campaigned in Ketchikan, she was supportive of the project."

When campaigning in Ketchikan in September 2006, Palin promised Ketchikan residents the bridge, the Ketchikan Daily News reported at the time:

"Palin said Ketchikan had taken a lot of heat for the 'bridge to nowhere' proposal. She said she can relate, referencing the remark made by ... Sen. Ben Stevens describing Mat-Su residents as 'Valley trash.'

"'OK, you've got Valley trash standing in the middle of nowhere,' Palin said. 'I think we're going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project,'" the Daily News reported.

Weinstein said she also didn't call him or anyone else in Ketchikan to tell them she was canceling the earmark.

"We read it in the press," he said.

Palin also vetoed two Ketchikan capital projects in this year's budget.

The man who coordinated the Ketchikan campaign to get her elected for governor in 2006 said he's sorry now.

"She hasn't communicated with us or spent any time with us. The people who helped get her elected are shocked," said Mike Elerding. "She's alienated a lot of the Republican base here in Ketchikan."

That's much of the town.

When did he start to worry about Palin?

"Right after the inauguration," he said.

Not everyone in Ketchikan feels abandoned, though.

Councilman and former Republican district chairman Dick Coos continues to hold out hope for the bridge. He didn't feel abandoned, and thought Palin did a rousing job in that acceptance speech.

"There's always tomorrow, and the state has a huge amount of money," he said.

A recent poll showed Southeast Alaska voters supported Palin the least statewide. But that's not saying much.

Southeast support polled at 69 percent, while the rest of the state ranged between 72 and 88 percent.

"Heady territory," pollster David Dittman called it. "I don't think any governor has had that."

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail

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