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Palin receives kudos, questions about her stand on Darfur

Governor was against divestment in nation before she was for it

Posted: Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin is being praised for her support of divestment from Sudan, but also being blamed for the failure of a divestment bill in the Alaska Legislature's last session. That's a bill she later switched to support and bragged about in her much-watched debate with Democratic rival, Sen. Joe Biden, last week.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said he was "pleased as punch," to hear Palin back the effort on the national stage. Lynn was one of the prime sponsors of House Bill 287, which required the state to divest itself from involvement in some Darfur-related investments.

In Alaska, that's largely investments in some Chinese-owned companies that support Sudan's oil industry. Oil profits fund the Sudanese military.

Palin also won praise from anti-genocide activist Rabbi Lee Bycel, who is in Juneau to speak to the World Affairs Council and the Congregation Sukkat Shalom during high holiday services.

"I think it is great that she made that statement," Bycel said. "Alaska should not fund genocide in Darfur, either directly or indirectly."

The bill's other prime sponsor, Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, blames Palin, however, for the bill failing in the first place.

When the bill was before the House State Affairs Committee, two state investment officials opposed it. Mike Burns, executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., and Brian Andrews, deputy commissioner of the Department of Revenue, both opposed the bill.

"This testimony helped kill this bill," Gara said.

The two investment executives argued that the bill would be cumbersome to implement and have negligible effect on the situation in Darfur.

Bycel disagreed.

"It makes a statement," he said. "The Sudan government does watch what's happening, and its one more step in the right direction."

At the vice-presidential debate, Palin addressed Darfur in a question from host Gwen Ifill about military intervention, and used the opportunity to zing Biden on his changing position on the war in Iraq.

"It's so obvious that I'm a Washington outsider and someone just not used to the way you guys operate. Because here you voted for the war, and now you opposed the war. You're the one who says, just as many politicians do, I was for it before I was against it or vice-versa," Palin said.

Palin was against the divestment bill before she was for it, however.

"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.

Gara said that Palin's statement about when she began supporting divestment doesn't match the public record.

"The facts show the governor did not in fact take a stand on this issue when she "found out" about it.

Gara said that governor-elect Palin was urged by members of Congress to support divestment in November 2006, the Save Darfur Coalition met with the governor's staff in 2007, and she must have been aware of a 2008 "die-in" on the steps of the Capitol.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, joined in sponsoring the bill after Lynn and Gara introduced it. She said she appreciated Palin's support, but wishes it had come soon enough to save the bill from dying.

"I don't think you can blame it all on the governor, but she was a day late and a dollar short," she said.

Kerttula said she doubts Palin was intentionally providing misleading information to the debate audience, but it was more likely that she was unaware of the actions taken by her staff and administration.

"There's a pattern of lack of engagement on her part," Kerttula said.

Lynn said that when the divestment bill failed to pass in the last session, Palin assigned special assistant Randy Ruaro, now her deputy chief of staff, to work with him on a bill for introduction in the 2009 session.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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