State GOP unites behind an issue: Palin

Alaska's Republican leaders say they'll put differences aside

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. - With Republicans nationally flocking to the bandwagon of the charismatic Gov. Sarah Palin, so are many Alaska Republican leaders - and that's bigger news than it might sound.

The Alaska Republican Party has been split by internal divisions for several years, with some of its top leaders in bitter disputes with Palin. Now, they're largely uniting behind Palin or keeping quiet.

That's a good thing, said Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

"This is no time for intraparty squabbles," Lynn said.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowsk, R-Alaska, has been outspoken in her support.

"I'm so proud Sarah Palin will be joining us at this national level," she told delegates at a breakfast meeting.

The morning after Palin's triumphant acceptance of the Republican nomination for the vice presidency on Wednesday, the Alaska delegation was still aglow with pride. But it wasn't always that way.

Not long after announcing his selection of Palin as his running mate, Sen. John McCain said Alaska had "a corrupt self-dealing political culture (that) had become a national disgrace" and praised Palin for challenging it.

One of those that Palin challenged was then-Gov. Frank Murkowski a fellow Republican she had once admired and father of Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Not only did Palin trounce Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary, in which the unpopular sitting governor placed third in a three-way race, but she spent much of the her early days in office reversing Murkowski's actions.

That included removing Murkowski's chief of staff and son-in-law from commissions to which Murkowski appointed them hours before leaving office.

Still, Palin and Lisa Murkowski say they've maintained an effective working relationship focusing on Alaska's needs.

Thursday, Murkowski was effusive in her praise of Palin, and warned Democrats and the media not to take her lightly.

"Don't underestimate the strength of this woman of the north," she said.

Palin first made her name, and nearly ended her budding political career, when she took on Randy Reudrich, chairman of the state Republican Party.

Both Palin and Reudrich had been appointed to positions on the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission, lucrative jobs in which political appointees could be stockpiled.

Palin took her position as ethics commissioner seriously, however, and eventually reported ethical violations by Reudrich. When Gov. Murkowski failed to act, Palin resigned in protest.

Reudrich was later forced out as well, but he remains chairman of the state Republican Party.

Having the state's party chairman as a bitter enemy was a complication, but it didn't keep Palin from cruising to an easy victory in November 2006.

Reudrich said the party will work as hard this year to elect McCain and Palin as it did getting Palin elected governor.

"We got her elected in '06, and there's no difference this year," he said.

Despite any differences between the two, they have the same goal in mind, Reudrich said.

"The party process is to motivate the base, and get conservatives to the polls," he said.

Palin also has clashed with the powerful Stevens family on ethical issues, calling for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens to explain to the public the ethical allegations against him. Stevens has since been indicted on federal charges involving $250,000 in unreported gifts from the VECO Corp. oil field services firm.

Stevens' son, the former state Senate President Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, has been identified as being under investigation for taking bribes from VECO. He has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

Palin also has had a long-running feud with current Senate President Lyda Green, also a conservative Republican from Wasilla. Green was challenged for re-election by a Palin ally and recently withdrew her re-election bid, acknowledging she was unlikely to keep her job.

Another top Republican, U.S. Rep. Don Young, Alaska's only congressman, has been an outspoken advocate of earmarks. Palin is an outspoken critic of earmarks.

Young also is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with allegations he accepted campaign contributions in exchange for earmarks.

Alaska convention delegates say the excitement about Palin's nomination is so great that they'll put aside differences to see Palin elected.

Lynn was one of the House Republicans who backed Palin in battles for a new oil tax and a new natural gas pipeline contract during the last two years. Previous efforts in both those areas had been tainted by bribery.

Lynn said everyone in Alaska is ready to leave those conflicts in the past.

"We're all team Alaska now," he said.

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