Palin steps in to 'guard' state

New governor promises to protect interests of Alaska during her term

Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2006

FAIRBANKS - Promising to defend the interests of all Alaskans as the state increases its energy production, Sarah Palin was sworn in Monday as the ninth state governor since Alaska was granted statehood in 1959.

"I will unambiguously, steadfastly and doggedly guard the interests of this great state as a mother naturally guards her own," she told an overflowing crowd at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.

Palin said the most important issue facing Alaska as she takes office is developing energy supplies and building an international role for the state.

"We must have reserves and explore for more to energize our homes, our businesses, for new industry to come alive,

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to heat our economy and allow self-sufficiency while gifting our nation with safe domestic supplies," she said.

"Couple this with ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) oil and inexhaustible alternative energy sources, and Alaska can lead the nation in a much-needed U.S. energy plan," Palin said.

She asked why Alaska couldn't fuel the nation and lead the world.

"America is looking for answers. She's looking for a new direction. The world is looking for a light. It's Gov. (Walter) Hickel that reminds me that light can come from America's great north star. It can come from Alaska," she said.

Central to this plan will be natural gas, and a proposed $25 billion natural gas pipeline to take North Slope gas to Midwestern markets will be the first focus of her administration.

She plans to meet Tuesday and Wednesday with 12 companies or groups interested in building the pipeline before she moves to the Governor's Mansion in Juneau later this week.

Besides Palin, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and acting Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Marty Rutherford and others will attend the meetings.

"We will get a feel for where they are and what they can offer this state of Alaska," Palin said later during a news conference.

The meetings will include the three big oil companies that negotiated with former Gov. Frank Murkowski on a natural gas pipeline contract - ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP, the companies that also own the leases to the gas. The legislature never ratified that contract.

Parnell said some "new players" are being invited to the table this time. Those companies include TransCanada, MidAmerica, Shell and Chevron, among others.

"I think our hope is to hear road maps for commercializing Alaska's gas," Parnell said.

Palin promised that her pipeline contract negotiations would be open and transparent, and has told the companies any information or documents offered would be public. Murkowski was criticized for his secret negotiations with the oil companies for several years.

"We are going in this with a fresh start, an open mind," Palin said. "We are going to give everyone a fair shot."

The new governor said that after the natural gas pipeline, her administration would be tackling the state budget. Parnell said the state would have to pare down the Murkowski administration's proposed $4.6 billion budget offered last month.

Revenues only add up to $3.9 billion, and Parnell said there is no strategy yet where to make cuts.

Superior Court Judge Niesje Steinkruger administered the oaths separately to both Palin and Parnell, with their spouses at their sides.

After Palin was sworn in, the raucous crowd began stomping feet on the floor and chanting "Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!" before Alaska musher and mistress of ceremonies Libby Riddles joked that the governor asked them to "cease and desist."

Palin paid homage to Riddles, the first woman to win the 1,100-mile Iditarod sled dog race, in 1985. Palin said while other college students had posters of the singer Madonna or the band Metallica in their rooms, she put up pictures of Riddle.

"She was bold and tough. Thank you for plowing the way," Palin said.

Palin is the state's first female governor and at age 42, also is the youngest person to hold the office. She also is the first not to be sworn in Juneau, the state capital.

She chose Fairbanks for the ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the Alaska Constitution, which was drafted in Fairbanks three years before statehood in 1959. Four surviving delegates to the Constitutional Convention were recognized at the ceremony.

But it wasn't all business in her remarks. Palin also sent a personal message: "To my family, our big family, I love you," she said.

"Y'all cleaned up real well today, I don't see a Carhartt in the bunch," she joked of the brand of heavy-duty work clothes favored by many Alaskans.

Palin rose from relative obscurity - she's a former mayor of the small town of Wasilla - to win state's highest office.

She trounced incumbent Murkowski in the GOP primary, and then handily defeated former two-term Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, in the general election.

Palin is a Republican who has spent the last few years irritating state GOP leaders by blowing the whistle on the party chairman's violations of state ethics laws, then filing an ethics complaint together with a Democratic legislator against former Attorney General Gregg Renkes, a longtime Murkowski aide.

Palin also appealed to Alaskans because of her status as a political outsider. She described her profession the past few years as "hockey mom" and occasional commercial fisherman. That stood out against her opponents, both political insiders: First Murkowski, who was a U.S. senator for 22 years before becoming governor, then Knowles, who was seeking a political comeback after being Alaska's governor from 1994-2002.

In both cases, her opponents raised and spent more money than her campaign did. It didn't matter.

Palin is the ninth person elected governor, but two of her predecessors - William Egan and Hickel - were elected to non-consecutive terms. Egan served from 1959-1966 and then from 1970-1974. Hickel served from 1966-1969 and then from 1990-1994.

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