State leaders question Palin's qualifications

Governor's two years of experience raise concerns about vice presidential candidacy

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has less than two years of experience as governor, leading Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, to questions whether that's enough to qualify Palin to be the second highest official in the nation.

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Stephan Savoia / The Associated Press
Stephan Savoia / The Associated Press

"I've worked real well with the governor, but she's not ready for this step," Kerttula said.

"She's not ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency," said Kerttula, who serves as Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, disagreed.

"There was a substantial learning curve Governor Palin faced as she became governor, and she excelled at that. I expect her to do the same as vice president." he said.

As an inexperienced governor, Palin has had a sometimes rocky relationship with the Legislature, but also has had success in pushing her legislative agenda, including a bigger share of the state's phenomenal oil wealth and getting the state on the road to a natural gas pipeline.

Those rough relations weren't helped in Palin's first legislative session as governor, when legislators said they didn't get guidance from her on spending priorities and were then surprised when Palin vetoed many of their priority projects.

Compounding what was seen as a high-handed attitude was her statement at the time that there needed to be an "adult in the house."

Among those irked by that was House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, an experienced legislator who had dealt with budgets for years.

When asked about her qualifications by the Anchorage Daily News, he said, "She's old enough. She's a U.S. citizen."

Palin has spent little time in Juneau, rarely coming to the state capital except when the Legislature was in session, and sometimes not even then.

During a recent special session called by Palin herself, she faced criticism from several legislators for not showing up personally to push for her agenda.

Someone at the Capitol even printed up buttons asking "Where's Sarah?"

Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, called it a telling question.

"At a time when her leadership was truly needed, we didn't know where she was," Doll said.

Palin's gubernatorial office has been plagued by turnover. She just appointed a new chief of staff this week, she's on her third legislative director in 21 months, and her press office has had numerous staff coming and going.

Palin also has clashed with members of the state's Congressional delegation on earmarks, ethics and other issues. She disagreed with U.S. Rep Don Young on some earmarks, such as Ketchikan's so-called "bridge to nowhere." In Palin's acceptance speech Friday in Dayton, Ohio, she bragged about canceling that project.

Young, however, praised the selection as well as Palin's energy expertise.

"Governor Palin's knowledge of energy issues will be critical as she and Sen. McCain begin their path toward the White House," he said.

Palin also backed Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, a political ally, when he challenged Young in the Republican primary. Young currently holds a slim lead in that race, but said he expects to win it.

Palin's had better relations with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and the junior senator praised the selection of Palin on Friday.

"I think it puts Alaska on the map, and that's great news for the state," Murkowski said.

Palin ran for office in 2006 in a campaign that centered on her opposition to Murkowski's father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski. Palin took on the state's Republican old guard and crushed Murkowski in the primary. She then defeated former two-term Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles in the general election.

Palin also has called on Sen. Ted Stevens to explain the accusations against him made by federal prosecutors. Stevens, too, praised Palin's appointment Friday, and the two have worked together on many issues as well.

Palin's clash with the Republican establishment had begun earlier, when she was a member of the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Palin accused fellow commissioner Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the state Republican party, of doing party business on state time and sharing a sensitive e-mail with a lobbyist.

Palin's challenge to Murkowski came after he failed to act in the Ruedrich case, and she found little support from the party in her campaign for governor.

After McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate Friday, Ruedrich issued a statement supporting the choice.

"The Alaska Republican Party is proud of and supports our vice presidential nominee: Governor Sarah Palin," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgeyat 523-2250 or e-mail

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