Authors toe nonpartisan line in book on Palin

Former campaign reporter says challenge was to write evenhanded account of polarizing figure

Posted: Monday, November 23, 2009

Some Alaska legislators and staff who have dealt with former Gov. Sarah Palin extensively are saying that to understand what went on in Alaska before, during and after the 2008 presidential campaign, skip the former governor's much hyped autobiography.

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Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

Instead, they say, read "Sarah from Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a new Conservative Superstar."

That book, written by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe, expands on their work as reporters during the presidential campaign. Walshe was an embedded reporter and producer covering Palin's vice presidential candidacy for the Fox News Channel and Conroy covered the Palin campaign for CBS News.

The authors, reached by phone, said it was difficult to write a book that would be perceived as evenhanded about Palin, but both former loyalists and detractors of the governor have had positive things to say about their book.

"It's a challenge to write a book that's considered fair about Sarah Palin because she's so polarizing," Conroy said.

Among the book's revelations were that Palin wasn't responsible for the much derided shopping sprees during the campaign. That was the result of staff hired by U.S. Sen. John McCain's campaign, and running mate Palin objected to how much they were spending on clothes, Conroy said.

"I don't wear these kinds of clothes, these are far too expensive for me," they quote Palin as telling campaign staff.

Campaign staff responded by hiding the cost from her, including cutting off labels before she saw them.

"The whole clothing issue is a case when Sarah Palin is justified in saying that it isn't really her fault," Conroy said.

The New York Times last week credited "Sarah from Alaska" with being the first to get the campaign's fashion consultant to go on the record about the Palin campaign.

Among Walshe and Conroy's other revelations were that Palin was surprised that state Democratic legislators with whom she had allied on issues such as raising oil taxes, pushing for a natural gas pipeline and ethics reform didn't support her during the campaign.

The McCain campaign had even hoped state Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, would be a spokesperson who would tell national reporters about Palin's bipartisan approach to governing.

Kerttula, an Obama supporter, declined and later told the Empire that Palin was "not ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Later, after Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, resigned and took a position with the Obama administration, Palin refused to appoint Kerttula to that seat.

"Anyone who crosses her is beneath contempt," Walshe said of Palin's demand for loyalty.

Palin also expected Democrats to back her in her attempts to squelch the Troopergate investigation during the campaign. When they didn't, the campaign lashed out at state Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, who had been tasked with managing the investigation by the majority Republican Legislature.

Kerttula staffer Aurora Hauke said, "Alaska politics are very different," which the Walshe and Conroy book accurately reflected but most other outside observers had failed to recognize.

In the state Legislature, coalitions form around various issues and sometimes disregard party affiliation.

"The Sarah we knew in Alaska politics was very different from the Sarah we knew in national politics, which is why Democrats could have an alliance with her on some issues and not on others."

In Alaska before the vice presidential run, Palin had allied so often with Democrats to accomplish her agenda that Republican leaders were wondering about her party loyalty.

"I think there were come questions about who she formed allegiances with," said House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.

During the campaign there was some satisfaction among Republicans in watching Palin take on Democrats for a change.

"Now at least she's going after the other party, instead of her own," Chenault said.

But after the election, Palin's relationship with the Democrats had deteriorated and hadn't improved with Republicans.

While Palin may have become a Republican superstar down south, in Alaska she had fewer and fewer allies.

The writers detail incidents that continued to chill relations, including Palin confronting one of Chenault's staff and refusing to tell members of the House's Republican-led majority what her legislative agenda would be in what turned out to be her last legislative session in office.

They also detail Palin's vendetta against her former legislative director, John Bitney, who helped her get elected but on whom she later turned.

The writers spent weeks in Alaska, including much time in Juneau researching the book.

Bitney, now an aide to Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, said their research paid off.

"The parts that I'm familiar with were written up very accurately," he said.

Walshe said she was surprised to see in Palin's own book, which came out last week, the former vice presidential candidate taking another jab at Bitney, but said that was often Palin's style.

"We were just amazed how with this book she seemed to want to settle scores with a list of people who have crossed her over the years," she said.

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

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