Palin jousts with Biden

Governor touts the government experience she earned in Alaska

Posted: Friday, October 03, 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin talked up Alaska and held her own against Sen. Joe Biden in the first and only vice-presidential debate in the 2008 election season.

Rick Wilking / The Associated Press
Rick Wilking / The Associated Press

Palin touted her experience as mayor of Wasilla and her tax-cutting in Alaska as a mayor and governor.

"I eliminated personal property taxes and eliminated small business inventory taxes and as governor we suspended our state fuel tax. We did all of those things knowing that that is how our economy would be heated up," Palin said.

Palin's claim may have been a bit of an exaggeration. Wasilla city government did reduce some taxes, though Palin didn't do it personally. As governor, Palin had few taxes to cut, but proposed suspending the motor fuel tax for a year. That cost Alaska an estimated $40 million from a $10 billion-plus budget.

Biden never attacked Alaska and instead focused on McCain.

Palin on Thursday night appeared confident and collected - a far cry from her recent fumbling appearances with CBS News' Katie Couric.

Moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS didn't press for answers when Palin several times ignored the questions Ifill asked.

Palin confidently said she simply wasn't going to answer questions when she didn't want to, even when Biden called her on it.

"I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record," Palin said.

As Biden focused on McCain instead of his vice-presidential rival, Palin attacked Democratic headliner Sen. Barack Obama instead of Biden. When Biden accused McCain of supporting tax breaks for oil companies, Palin skewered Obama for supporting the very same legislation.

Then she contrasted that with what she'd done as governor.

"You know what I had to do in the state of Alaska? I had to take on those oil companies and tell them, 'No,' you know, any of the greed there that has been kind of instrumental, I guess, in their mode of operation, that wasn't going to happen in my state," she said.

Despite running on the same ticket with deregulation advocate McCain, Palin urged more governmental regulation of the financial industry.

"We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings," Palin said.

When Biden mentioned his support for stopping the genocide in Darfur, Palin said she, too, opposed it. But she may have overstated her opposition.

Palin claimed she supported a bill in the Alaska Legislature to divest the Alaska Permanent Fund from its investments in Sudan.

"When I and others in the Legislature found out we had some millions of dollars in Sudan, we called for divestment through legislation of those dollars to make sure we weren't doing anything that would be seen as condoning the activities there in Darfur," she said.

Actually, Palin opposed the legislation before she supported it. The divestment bill died in the House of Representatives after Palin's administration testified against it.

She later reversed course and supported it in the Senate, but too late for passage.

Palin also misstated the size of the fund, claiming it held $40 billion. It is at $33.5 billion, after withdrawals and recent market declines.

Palin was so confident Thursday in St. Louis that when both she and Biden were asked by Ifill what their Achilles' heels were, she didn't acknowledge any. Ifill suggested that for Palin it was her inexperience, and for Biden it was that he lacked discipline.

Palin disputed that, saying her experience as a mayor, business owner, oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a major oil producing state would be put to good use, but was unwilling to acknowledge any weaknesses.

Biden said that in his case, he sometimes became too emotional.

"People talk about my excessive passion. I'm not going to change," he said, after being in office 35 years. "People can judge who I am."

One intriguing exchange likely to be explored in depth involved both candidates' views of the powers of the vice presidency.

As vice-president, Palin said she'd expand the powers of the office beyond the casting of tie-breaking votes in the Senate the Constitution specifies.

"I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate," Palin said.

The current vice-president, Dick Cheney, has sought to expand the power of the office beyond what the Constitution seems to say, and received push back from Democrats, including Biden.

"Vice-president Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history," Biden said.

The Constitution defines the vice-presidency as part of the executive branch, not the legislative branch.

"He should understand that," Biden said. "Everyone should understand that."

With Ifill giving the candidates free rein, both candidates spoke in respectful tones with each other while sharply contrasting their parties' policy positions.

Palin said she appreciated the opportunity.

"I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they've just heard. I'd rather be able to just speak to the American people like we just did," she said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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