TOPICS > Politics

McCain Sees Fellow Reformer in VP Pick Palin

August 29, 2008 at 6:15 PM EDT
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GOP Sen. John McCain named little-known Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate Friday. Writers who have followed Palin's career discuss her rise to national politics.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on Sarah Palin and her record in public office, we turn to Lindsey Holmes, a Democratic state representative from Alaska. She has been here in Denver this week as a delegate to her party’s convention.

And joining us from Anchorage, Michael Carey, host of a weekly political program for Alaska Public Television and a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News.

And Kaylene Johnson, author of “Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment Upside Down.”

Thank you, all three, for being with us.

Kaylene Johnson, let me start with you. Let’s look first at her work on the city council and her work as mayor of Wasilla. What was notable about her record in those jobs?

KAYLENE JOHNSON, Author, “Sarah”: Well, I think one of the things that came up right at the beginning was that she was inexperienced, and she still wound up being elected to the council and making efforts and headway right at the beginning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And she moved on…

KAYLENE JOHNSON: She…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

KAYLENE JOHNSON: Well, she basically took on the good-old-boy network right at the beginning with city council starting in the Wasilla city council. And when she did that, she made enemies right away, but she also made some good friends.

And I think that that has served her well, that she has basically stood up for what she believed in and moved forward. And she hasn’t really taken the notion that inexperience is a reason not to move forward and not to move on the things that you believe in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: She then ran for the Alaska — or was asked to serve, I should say, on the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission. What about her record there?

KAYLENE JOHNSON: Well, she was — she was appointed to be the ethics officer for that position or for that commission. And she saw some violations in ethics that were coming directly from the leader and the head of the Republican Party here in Alaska.

Well, she called him on that. And you would have thought that that might have been the end of her career, because she was calling on the carpet the person in charge of the Republican Party in Alaska.

So she really — she did that, and she basically came out swinging. And that really showed her as a reformer, and it also showed that principle was above party politics, as far as she was concerned.

Ethics and reform legislator

Michael Carey
Anchorage Daily News
Her opponents and critics have constantly underestimated her. When she ran for governor, she was disparaged as the beauty queen -- she is a former beauty queen -- somebody who really didn't know the issues, who doesn't understand the issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Michael Carey, she went on to run for governor on that platform of reform. How has she delivered on that?

MICHAEL CAREY, Anchorage Daily News: Well, she did run on a platform of reform. And she was the sponsor of a major ethics bill that would overhaul executive ethics. And the bill passed.

There was a tremendous atmosphere here in Alaska of people who wanted ethics legislation. And given -- I mean, this was a wonderful piece of news for us today. It was as if some neighbor down the road is nominated for vice president, somebody we know. And it's also some good news, because finally we're on television and the newspapers about something other than corruption.

But she was part of the movement to improve the ethics bill and ethics legislation, but she wasn't the only one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What else would you say is notable about her time, what, a little over a year-and-a-half as governor?

MICHAEL CAREY: I think that if I was to say something that would be useful to the viewers, it would be this. Her opponents and critics have constantly underestimated her. When she ran for governor, she was disparaged as the beauty queen -- she is a former beauty queen -- somebody who really didn't know the issues, who doesn't understand the issues.

When she became governor, she still is criticized as somebody who's not a good administrator, who's not particularly hands-on, who doesn't know the ins and outs of the government.

But she is tremendous with people. She connects with people. You've seen some of what she can do. And I don't think people who are critics out there, the Democrats, should underestimate her.

On the other hand, I don't think the Republicans should overestimate her, either. She's been quite fortunate in her opponents through her career. She ran against an unpopular governor; she ran against a former governor, a Democrat, Tony Knowles, and beat him.

She campaigned for ethics against people who are obviously crooked. She's always had opponents who she shined against. And she's up against Joe Biden now, and this is going to be the biggest challenge of her career. And it's going to be really quite interesting to see how she handles it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Holmes, you're a Democrat, serving in the state legislature, working with her. What's it like to work with her?

LINDSEY HOLMES (D), Alaska State Representative: Well, you know, she and I actually came in at the same time. We've both been in office for about a year-and-a-half. And it's a big transition, honestly, to go from a small town mayor to the governor of the largest state in the union. And so there's been a steep learning curve for her.

I think I would characterize it as sort of two steps forward, one step back. We've been working hard to sort of improve communication between the executive and legislative branches. And sometimes that's been successful, and other times it's broken down.

Conservative, middle-road in Alaska

Kaylene Johnson
And so, obviously, Alaskans are harder hit than other places at times with energy costs. So she's sensitive to where people are at. And I think that she's aware of what the average American has to do to make ends meet and has to do to get by.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how does she get along with state legislators?

LINDSEY HOLMES: Well, I think it depends on the state legislator. There's been a bit of a hands-off approach, I would have to say. It's not...

JUDY WOODRUFF: A hands-off approach on whose...

LINDSEY HOLMES: To the legislature, from the governor's office to the legislature. There are definitely people in the legislature she just doesn't get along with at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are they all Democrats?

LINDSEY HOLMES: No, actually, they're mostly Republicans, a lot of Republicans, some Democrats. It kind of depends on the issue. There have been some arguments over handling of things like budget vetoes without communicating them ahead of time to the legislature, just a lack of communication, I think, on a lot of things that we've been working on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were telling me -- excuse me, you were telling me, too, there had been some turnover in her office with the legislature?

LINDSEY HOLMES: There has been. There's been some turnover of commissioners. And I think it was mentioned earlier in the lead-in segment that there's currently a legislative investigation into one of those, just to see whether or not there was any professional or ethical issues.

It's really too soon in the investigation to tell where that's going to lead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me come back to you -- let me come back to you, Kaylene Johnson, joining us from Alaska. She's been identified, Sarah Palin, as socially conservative. What issues do you identify her most with?

KAYLENE JOHNSON: Well, I think that her pro-life stance is something that's definitely out there, as far as that's one area where she's definitely socially conservative.

She's also fiscally conservative. Although I would say, too, that she's also willing, when there's funds available, she's recently offered a rebate -- or not a rebate, but an energy assistance to Alaskans, where in the Bush right now gasoline is $9 a barrel.

And so, obviously, Alaskans are harder hit than other places at times with energy costs. So she's sensitive to where people are at. And I think that she's aware of what the average American has to do to make ends meet and has to do to get by.

Tough road ahead for the governor

Lindsey Holmes
Alaska State Representative
We're talking about a small-time mayor who's learning to be governor of the state, has been spending the last year-and-a-half gearing up to that, but I don't think has had much exposure to the national and international scene.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Carey, where would you place her on the ideological spectrum?

MICHAEL CAREY: I would -- so far, she's been a fairly practical conservative. It is true that she's an abortion opponent and holds some very conservative views, but she really hasn't pushed it, and she's made some super-conservatives very angry for that purpose.

The other thing you have to remember is Alaska is in a period of affluence now. The state treasury is filled with money. The high oil prices the rest of the country are paying has made the rest of us up here -- given us a full treasury, and now we don't have to worry about taxing.

We can spend money on people and just -- we don't have to make the tough choices that you have to make where you live.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Michael Carey, finally, I want to ask all three of you, how do you think, knowing her, knowing her temperament, how do you think she's going to do in the pressure cooker she faces over the next two months?

MICHAEL CAREY: I am really not sure. I know that she will take this as a challenge. She said in the piece that you played that life is not for the safe; there are risks to be taken; the ship isn't built to stay in the harbor.

And I'm sure those beliefs, and her own personal faith, and her own sense of destiny will buoy her as she goes along. On the other hand, I don't think she's ever faced a challenge like this. And I'm confident that she really doesn't appreciate how difficult this is going to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back here to State Representative Lindsey Holmes, how do you think she'll do, having watched her?

LINDSEY HOLMES: You know, I think it's going to be a real challenge for her. I think it's going to be a really steep learning curve. We're talking about a small-time mayor who's learning to be governor of the state, has been spending the last year-and-a-half gearing up to that, but I don't think has had much exposure to the national and international scene.

And those types of questions are going to be coming at her. I think it's going to be a really steep learning curve for her to get up to speed on the national and international issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, State Representative Lindsey Holmes from Alaska, Kaylene Johnson, and Michael Carey, joining us from Anchorage, thank you, both. Thank you, all three.