Sarah Palin rides voter anger over corruption

Republican candidate consistently supports bridge, road projects

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006

Alaska's gubernatorial race hit the big time on Monday. It led the politics section of the Wall Street Journal under the headline, "Ethics tide aids one Republican." Writer Jim Carlson opened with: "Sarah Palin is emerging as the giant killer of the Last Frontier. ... She is tapping into voter anger over corruption and dissatisfaction with incumbents."

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He outlined her overwhelming victory in the August primary over Gov. Frank Murkowski and former state legislator John Binkley to win the Republican nomination for governor in the Nov. 7 general election.

Former Gov. Tony Knowles won the Democratic nomination. After the primary, he started gaining on Palin in the polls. The gain, however, stalled in October at 47 percent for Palin and 40 percent for Knowles.

Carlson wrote that Palin's "theme of taking a tough stance on ethics is clearly resonating with the voters."

Carlson cites her disclosure that Randy Ruedrich, state Republican Party chairman, was conducting party business while on his state job. That cost him the job and a fine. Carlson even connects the FBI's investigation of improper influence peddling as sign of possible political corruption in Alaska.

Carlson probably reads the tea leaves correctly. In the primary, Palin's 51,500 votes exceeded Binkley and Murkowski's combined vote by 1,500. Even losing, Binkley and Murkowski outpolled the two Democratic candidates combined.

Knowles is frantically jetting around the state promising everything to everyone. His critics point out he had eight years as governor, 1994 to 2002, to accomplish what he is promising and did nothing. In fairness, the state lacked the funds at that time, and he had a Republican-led Legislature to deal with. He has, however, avoided answering reporters' questions on how he will finance his new plans with oil prices falling - down $8 a barrel since a year ago - and the prospect of another Republican-led Legislature.

Palin starts with the advantage that registered Republican voters outnumber registered Democrats 115,000 to 66,500. There are 250,000 registered voters who declare no party. If Knowles attracts enough of them to overtake Palin, it will be a real upset. But, if Carlson is right and voters are as tired of politicians as they demonstrated in the primaries, an upset is unlikely.

At a chamber of commerce meeting in Wasilla, Knowles criticized Palin for supporting the Knik Arm Bridge, Ketchikan's Gravina Island bridge and the road north out of Juneau instead of rebuilding the Parks Highway. Then when Knowles got to Juneau he promised to build the Juneau road, plus a second bridge to Douglas Island.

Only Palin is consistent in support all of the projects, including the Parks Highway.

Some in Juneau oppose Palin so vociferously, fearing loss of the capital, that they might help her. She favors keeping the capital in Juneau but says it is up to the Legislature where it meets. That isn't enough for some in Juneau.

If they raise the issue too loudly they will awaken the capital movers in Southcentral Alaska, which is far outstripping Juneau and Southeast Alaska in growth. Of 60 state legislators, only seven now represent Southeast, three in Juneau. And if the capital move comes up again, Juneau won't have the support of the rest of Southeast Alaska. Ketchikan will support Palin because of her support of the Gravina bridge.

Murkowski and Binkley, and even Ruedrich, now urge support of Palin. Nevertheless, not all Murkowski and Binkley supporters will stay with the Republicans. Some will go to Knowles before a woman. That's too bad. From CEO's and owners to sweepers, Alaska women have been successful in business. They have served from clerks to mayors, from law clerks to chief justice, from teachers to superintendents. From nurses to hospital chiefs.

Don't underestimate the ladies.

• Lew M. Williams Jr. is the retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News who has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.

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