RAY SUAREZ: Welcome back to the Online NewsHour's Insider Forum. I'm Ray Suarez. This is day two of the Republican National Convention. And all this week, the Online NewsHour will be asking journalists and Republican analysts and leaders your questions as we report from the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Today's guest is Michael Carey, a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, and host of KAKM Public Television's Anchorage edition. He joins us to answer your questions about the Republican vice-presidential choice, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Michael Carey, thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL CAREY: Glad to be here.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Sarah Palin has been the governor for what about 20 months now?
MICHAEL CAREY: Yes, something like that.
RAY SUAREZ: What are the highlights, the main events in that 20 months time?
MICHAEL CAREY: The main events have been, first of all, she got the legislation passed that would, we hope, allow for the construction of a trans-Alaska gas pipeline to accompany the gas line from the -- or excuse me the oil pipeline. This one would go to the Middle West, to Chicago, and provide natural gas for the Midwest.
Second, she increased taxes on the oil companies. This was somewhat of a redo of previous legislation. And third, she had an ethics bill that she wanted for -- in light of the corruption charges. Those are the major achievements.
RAY SUAREZ: What are the signature issues on which she ran and on which she is governed?
MICHAEL CAREY: She ran on cleaning up corruption. And part of it was some personal experience she had on the oil and gas commission with the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party who is here as a delegate and is the chairman of the Alaska delegation.
And I notice he's been very business-like in his presentation and doesn't have a lot to say about her and hasn't said anything negative. I'm sure of that.
RAY SUAREZ: Were you surprised when this pick was announced on Friday? Of all the people that Senator McCain could have chosen, did you have your eye on Sarah Palin?
MICHAEL CAREY: Well, here we -- the Daily News and Alaskans had heard -- there was a buzz a couple of months ago about Sarah Palin. And it was sort of the attitude of, really? Is this serious? And we know that there is sort of an industry of floating people's names and they get mentioned. And her name disappeared. And so, we thought, oh well.
Then, we got the same list that you had: Pawlenty and the rest of them, and perhaps Lieberman. And then, Friday morning, I woke to an e-mail from the Los Angeles Times, a colleague, that said, is it true? Sarah Palin? And I had to write back by e-mail, what are you talking about? And it went on from there.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, trying to take the measure of the person is tough with such a short public career. But there have been a couple of issues where she has shown maybe a philosophy of governance. Now, there was a state takeover of a dairy in Alaska that is a big, big money loser over the years.
MICHAEL CAREY: That actually -- yes, the state has had that for a long time. And it was a big money loser. And it was closed. It doesn't exist anymore.
RAY SUAREZ: But she wanted to keep it open.
MICHAEL CAREY: The problem with this -- and I'm going to -- I'm fallible on this particular question, because this went through several different iterations. It was sort of like, how do you close it without getting blamed for it? That's what I think.
RAY SUAREZ: Because the state had put a lot of money on the line.
MICHAEL CAREY: And actually, there was a lot of money involved. But it affected a relatively small number of people. It would have been much bigger issues affecting employment, jobs, and so forth.
RAY SUAREZ: Kevin writes from Honolulu: "Sarah Palin said she rejected the bridge to nowhere pork barrel. The truth is the earmark was removed and Alaska received all that pork barrel money and just spent it elsewhere in Alaska since the earmark was removed."
This has gotten a lot of attention over the last couple of days. Help us unravel it.
MICHAEL CAREY: Well, I think the heart of that is, essentially, she campaigned during the campaign as a reform candidate. But she didn't campaign against the bridge to nowhere, against catching it. But then, as governor, I mean, there isn't going to be a bridge because of her, at least on her watch. That is true.
It's also true that the money became rolled into the Alaska state transportation budget, federal dollars. And my understanding of it was it meant that that was going -- there would be other money that we wouldn't get.
In other words -- several people, including good friends of mine have made the argument. It's sort of like getting a Christmas present for grandma, taking it back to the store, and trading it in and pocketing the money. It's sort of in that direction but it's not that simple.
RAY SUAREZ: During the rollout of her candidacy on Friday, she was introduced as someone who had worked against pork of this kind. But it seems that when you read further into this story, the money that had been appropriated was insufficient to finish the project anyway.
So she was just turning down an appropriation that wouldn't have accomplished the job it was meant to do in the first place.
MICHAEL CAREY: The assumption I think of Alaskans was we would come back to you as the taxpayers of the United States to get you to pay for the rest of it through Uncle Ted. The readers and viewers know who that is, [Sen.] Ted Stevens. I mean, I guess part of the proof here is that the mayor of Ketchikan and others where the bridge was going to be, the bridge to nowhere, are still very mad at her for changing the project.
RAY SUAREZ: Trying to again take the measure of the person, you know, it's really something to have somebody who is such an unknown in the rest of the country.
MICHAEL CAREY: Well, yeah, and it's just something for me to see somebody I actually know on a national stage like this. Not that I have -- this is very different.
I grew up in Alaska in a small town myself. Suddenly, somebody from down the road is going to be candidate for vice president? It doesn't happen everyday.
RAY SUAREZ: Is she someone who has parted company with Senator McCain over whether humankind is changing the climate of the planet?
MICHAEL CAREY: Well, I think what she's there -- you're talking about the lawsuit over whether to put the polar bear on the endangered species list or whether to drill in ANWR. And she does have a very different -- ANWR being the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And she has a very different position.
She has the classical Alaskan politician's position of drill and drill now. You can't drill enough. Although they always say, only responsibly. And McCain has actually voted against it.
RAY SUAREZ: And she didn't want to list the polar bear as an endangered species?
MICHAEL CAREY: No, she was against that. In fact, the state has filed suit, as far as I know.
RAY SUAREZ: And the explanation for that?
MICHAEL CAREY: It really isn't necessary. Usually, you know how they argue these things -- bad science, insufficient data. That's the way one side always argues these kind of questions.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, as governor, she had responsibility for education, for health care and health-related public-health monies. Did she support abstinence-only education in the schools?
MICHAEL CAREY: You know, the most interesting thing -- one of the most interesting things about Sarah Palin is I have no doubt that that would be a view consistent with her beliefs, but there's no bill in the Alaska legislature to do that and a lot of her very conservative beliefs -- creationism is something she was asked about during the campaign. She said, yes, she would believe that creationism should be taught alongside of evolution, but there's no bill like that. She has really picked her spots.
And I think her personal views are probably significantly more conservative than we actually got as an administration.
RAY SUAREZ: So her private convictions haven't necessarily become public policy.
MICHAEL CAREY: That's right. And, you know, Maureen Dowd, in her column, the "Go-Go Boots" column, for those who are familiar with it, called her a zealot. And I'd say that's incorrect.
She has some strong Christian convictions, but I think it would be hard to find in the public policy realm a record that would support the charge of zealot.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Alaska, if I'm right, doesn't really have strongly religiously flavored politics, if I know that much about the state.
MICHAEL CAREY: It's interesting. They just did a study that showed that church participation or regular church attendance in Alaska is one of the lowest in the United States, although the lowest parts are the west. There are a couple of mega-churches that are influential that can turn out voters. I think they're definitely clearly influential within the Republican Party; there's no question about that.
And the Democrats and liberals can get quite animated and excited and angry and hysterical about the role of religious conservatives in public life, but they have a voice in the Republican Party; they have a voice in public life, as they should have, but I don't see them dominating in any way.
RAY SUAREZ: But making a strongly religiously flavored pitch for statewide office wouldn't necessarily be a recipe for success, would it?
MICHAEL CAREY: Oh, no. In fact, there's a -- we've had several people who have made that and have lost. I mean, people will make that pitch to the right audience.
RAY SUAREZ: Let's talk a little bit about Bristol Palin, since that has really exploded onto the news, the news that Sarah Palin's daughter is several months pregnant with a fellow she met in her town. What can you tell us about the reaction in Alaska to that news?
MICHAEL CAREY: Well, I'm not there; I'm here. And I have not -- I'll give you an example of how this took people by surprise. On Friday, I went into work and started working on this particular story about the -- about Palin becoming vice president. But in the middle of the afternoon, the editor, Pat Doherty, said, would you like to go to Minneapolis? I said, yes. That's about what I knew at that point and none of us knew that Bristol Palin was pregnant. We didn't know anything.
I mean, I think there have been in the daily news and some other reporting sort of the thought that, oh, yeah, this was common knowledge among certain people in Wasilla. People have said that, that being the governor's hometown. But I don't think that -- in a newsroom, as interested and gossip and good stories as ours, I did not hear this. I heard the other story, which is the fake pregnancy story. And maybe you want to go on to that at some point.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, that --
MICHAEL CAREY: The other part of the soap opera.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, that seems to have been what smoked out the Bristol Palin story, the attempt to put the first story to rest that came. Tell us more about the first one, which I guess was highlighted on the Daily Kos website.
MICHAEL CAREY: Yeah, that's been -- that story has been around for quite a while. I first heard it when a lawyer who I like very much and is a very smart guy presented this to me as the absolute truth.
RAY SUAREZ: That is, that Governor Palin was not pregnant?
MICHAEL CAREY: No, and that the whole thing was faked because she was covering up for her daughter who was pregnant. And the daughter was having the child and Sarah claimed it was her child and faked the pregnancy so as not to embarrass the daughter and not to create I guess political backlash for some kind of conservative values concern.
This pregnancy story is now sort of up against the numbers of her real pregnancy, how she could have two pregnancies in X number of months is not answered.
RAY SUAREZ: Virginia writes from Portland, Ore.: "How do you reconcile traditional family values with the choice of a mother who has chosen a 24/7 job while her children are still very young? She's got an infant in arms."
MICHAEL CAREY: This is really interesting. And she does, Trig. Sarah Palin I think has made clear -- she never said this, but in her behavior has made it clear that she would be governor of Alaska, but she was still first mom.
And I had a wonderful experience at the Iditarod dogsled race, which is well known, that I ran into her and one of her little kids, one of her daughters, in one of the venues where the dogsled races were about to begin.
She had no police officers with her. It was just mom out for the day with her child. And she does quite a bit of that and people respect her for it. Now, how that would work as vice president of the United States is beyond my comprehension.
RAY SUAREZ: When one is governor of Alaska, do you have to have good relations with the Canadians and the Russians? Do you have to have an international outlook because you're not part of the contiguous United States?
MICHAEL CAREY: Well, it's interesting the question about the Canadians because the previous governor, Tony Knowles -- or I guess two governors ago got into a big fishing dispute with the Canadians and they yelled at him. They yelled at him, and we denounced their currency; they denounced ours. This is a periodic flare-up when there are a shortage of fish and there are questions of salmon we're talking about -- who's catching them and then they become foreigners instead of our neighbor to the South, as we call them there.
And the Russians, we have relations with them and their companies that do business in Russia; but it's not as important as Canada, although it might be some day.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there -- are regular contacts part of the job?
MICHAEL CAREY: Yeah, sure, and that's been a -- a lot of those ceremonial sometimes, and Governor Murkowski who proceeded that Governor Palin was big on trade delegations and going to visit these places. That seems to be less important to her.
I don't have a list of how many of these she's done; but it does seem to be down her list of things that are important to her.
RAY SUAREZ: But in the argument over whether she has any foreign affairs experience, there is at least that little bit that comes with the job of being the governor.
MICHAEL CAREY: I was on one of these shows, and I made the smart remark that would she know Estonia from New Guinea. I couldn't answer the question, and I got skewered by some of my Republican friends for putting it that way, but I think the question of what her foreign education -- education in foreign policy is, nobody knows. It just really hasn't come up with us.
She hasn't been asked, to my knowledge -- maybe she will be now -- obviously she will be on -- she supports our troops, she supports her son who is about to be deployed. She supports Senator McCain. What she -- what her views are and what she knows independently, those are very different questions.
RAY SUAREZ: I've tried to scare up a well-articulated thorough view of global climate change because I thought the governor of Alaska might have one because Alaska seems so vulnerable, with the melting of the ice, with villages now being marooned, permafrost thawing. I thought, well, if any governor has a stated -- publicly stated policy, it would be the governor of Alaska, but I couldn't find one.
MICHAEL CAREY: That doesn't surprise me, and probably if you called up the governor's office, after we got off this show, you would get a similar kind of thing.
It think this goes back to what I tried to suggest earlier. She picks out three or four really big things and works on it: ethics, oil, gas -- those are the big things she was interested in. I'm going to get you a gas line that would run from the North Slope to the Midwest. She went through some Canadian companies. But it was a whole complicated process we don't want to get into. But it's the idea -- I focus on a few things.
RAY SUAREZ: How serious is the investigation into her handling of personnel matters as governor. She's currently under active investigation in the state.
MICHAEL CAREY: Yes, and that's -- this is an interesting question because a special investigator has been appointed a -- he's an Alaskan; he's a former prosecutor with a very good reputation -- to provide an independent analysis, and part of this is the old separation-of-powers thing.
People should not think of this as son of Watergate, but there are serious matters involved, involved her family, her former brother-in-law, some bad behavior he had, how she responded. Did she use her office inappropriately in an attempt to get him fired? Did people who work for her try to get him fired inappropriately? Did various people lie about it?
It's not clear what the outcome is going to be and it's not clear what the remedy might be. I mean, politically it could be quite important and this prosecutor, special investigator is going to be under a lot of pressure, as you can see. I mean, before he was investigating the governor; now he's investigating the potential vice president of the United States.
But there's an important thing for the viewers and listeners and people to keep in mind, and that is this started quite a long time ago, and it's quite clearly a very deep personal dispute in which the governor, Sarah Palin has felt -- she felt she had to defend both her family and her sister from somebody who had a very bad marriage.
And some of the behavior -- she wrote letters, she complained to the various authorities, his employer, she complained to the police -- occurred while she was a private citizen. So --
RAY SUAREZ: But then she became that officer's boss.
MICHAEL CAREY: In effect, yes.
RAY SUAREZ: And then everything changed, didn't it?
MICHAEL CAREY: No, that's right; you're absolutely right about that. And people are going to have to sort out what happened when.
So I'm confident that Steve Branchflower, the investigator, will come up with something like a timeline to explain some of this to those who want to know.
RAY SUAREZ: And Michael Carey, final question. What have you been able to find out about the extent and the depth of the vetting that went on, the inquiries, investigations into the past of this woman who is now the Republican, or about to be the Republican nominee for Vice President?
MICHAEL CAREY: Well, there's -- I'm sure that you're aware that Senator McCain today came out with a very strong statement which he was in effect proud of the vetting process. And I can vet with the best of them, was sort of the message here.
One question that my Alaskan colleagues are asking -- Walter Monegan, who was the commission of public safety and was ousted in this dispute with the governor about how to handle this police officer, Trooper Wooten, it is my understanding from what Monegan himself has said that he was never contacted by anybody from the McCain camp.
And as he is a principal in what seems to be the largest blemish presently on her resume, I think it's fair to conclude that's surprising.
RAY SUAREZ: Michael Carey, thanks for joining us. And thanks to everyone who's been in touch, our viewers, our online visitors who submitted questions. We'll have more interviews all of this week, so be sure to visit our Web site at www.pbs.org/newshour to ask your questions and find out more about our guests. Thanks for watching.