It's Wednesday afternoon and Andrew Halcro is on the phone at his family car rental business near the airport. He's talking shop:
"It's our first sale of the fall, and that means I need to have this stuff done ..."
Drivers on International Airport Road can see him through the office window: This thin man with a blue argyle sweater vest, sleeves rolled neatly below his elbows, a shadow of stubble.
What they can't see are the bags under his eyes, or the hand held e-mail gadget on his desk, crammed with tips and theories from his secret sources. It's almost lunchtime, and little does Halcro know that Gov. Sarah Palin is about to hold a surprise news conference with revelations of a recorded phone call that will grab headlines across the state.
In other words, it has all the makings of another juicy item for Halcro's blog.
A former two-term Republican state legislator from West Anchorage, Halcro writes a daily, sometimes several-times-daily, review of Alaska politics online. His near-exclusive focus lately: criticism and analysis of Palin and her administration. It's made him a folk hero to Palin's critics. To the governor's fans, he's in the running for Palin hater No. 1.
Either way, people are reading. Halcro, who lost to Palin when he ran as an independent in the 2006 election for governor, said visits to andrewhalcro.com exploded starting about a month ago. That's when he first detailed the feud between the Palin family and an Alaska State Trooper that's now part of an investigation of the governor and her staff.
"I think it's fair to say he got the ball rolling, at least on this issue," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hollis French, D-Anchorage.
Palin says the drumbeat of critiques on her gas line plan, her staff, her handling of a state-owned dairy are sour grapes from someone who wanted to run as her "co-governor" and then sought a job in her administration.
"He's still a very, very bitter person, obviously," Palin said in an interview last week. Halcro's Web site is a gossip blog and she doesn't read it, the governor said.
Halcro, who has traded barbs repeatedly with Palin since the governor's race, says Palin's making bad decisions and people need to know. Plus, he said, he's having fun.
"People really make the mistake of thinking this is politically motivated ... I enjoy doing it, and so far I haven't been too far off base," he said.
Halcro still wants to be governor, but doesn't plan to run in 2010, he said.
A MEETING WITH WOOTEN
Palin fired former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan on July 11.
Less than a week later, Halcro -- who had been blogging nonstop at the time about Palin's gas pipeline legislation -- said he got a phone call suggesting he talk to Trooper Mike Wooten, the governor's ex-brother-in-law.
Halcro and the trooper met at the Sheraton hotel bar for three and a half hours, he said. At 1 a.m. the next morning, Halcro posted a blog item titled "Why Walt Monegan got fired: Palin's abuse of power" that described Palin and Monegan disagreeing over the public safety budget before detailing a list of complaints the Palin family made against Wooten.
Halcro won't say who gave him Wooten's cell phone number.
The next day, the union that represents state troopers held a news conference claiming Wooten was treated unfairly by the governor's office.
Palin said Wooten told her sister during an encounter earlier that week that: "You guys are going down. Get ready for the show."
Monegan later said he felt pressured to fire Wooten, and by the end of the month, a panel of state legislators had voted to spend $100,000 to hire a retired state prosecutor to look into whether Palin's team broke ethical rules when it came to Wooten's job.
French, the Anchorage senator, said it was Monegan's comments, more than news of the Wooten allegations, that spurred the investigation.
Still, he said, "I think for all intents and purposes, the public didn't know about this until Andrew put it on his blog."
"ALASKA OWES YOU A GREAT THANKS"
The Internet is choosing sides.
In a YouTube video, called "Draft Palin Founder refutes Andrew Halcro (Part 2)," a young man from Colorado wearing a Palin for vice president T-shirt looks into the camera.
"This is a disgusting and unsubstantiated smear attempt ..." he says.
Another YouTube clip, presumably created by a Palin supporter, features black-and-white footage, apparently from an old "Twilight Zone" episode. A manic, nerdy man with thick glasses works the phone alone in his office, accusing people of being communists and "morally objectionable." The clip is labeled "The Halcro Zone."
Over on Halcro's blog, someone calling herself "Bootsy" tells Halcro she wants to have his baby.
"Thanks for opening our eyes to 'The Alaska Hillbillies,' " she writes.
Elsewhere, "Paul" comments: "Well done Mr. Halcro! Alaska owes you a great thanks."
And so it goes. There's not much dissent.
Halcro approves all reader comments before they go on his site. He says he's only spiked about half-a-dozen -- for profanity.
Halcro describes the blog as a mix of fact and opinion. He often doesn't tell his readers where exactly his information comes from. He admits he does make mistakes now and then and said he tries to post an immediate correction if he gets something wrong.
"CLOUD OF NEGATIVITY"
There are differing opinions in the Legislature too.
"(Halcro) seems more angry than purposeful. And I think that just turns people off," said Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole.
But Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who routinely appears on Halcro's Saturday-afternoon radio show, says Halcro has emerged as a largely credible source of fresh information.
As for Palin and Halcro themselves, Halcro says it was the governor who first talked to him about a job after she was elected and says Palin is burning bridges.
"When you spend your political career throwing people under the bus, sooner or later there's going to come a day when there's no one left to save you from that same fate."
In one blog post, he writes that Palin -- who ran on ethics -- "May not be open but at least she is transparent."
Palin said Halcro would be more believable if he'd admit "the state isn't going to hell in a handbasket with every day that goes by."
Former Gov. Tony Knowles ran against Palin and Halcro, who finished third with 9 percent of the vote, in 2006. When Knowles now disagrees with her, it means something because he picks his battles and doesn't complain all the time, Palin said.
In contrast, Halcro criticizes her appearance, family and the people around her, she said.
"It must be quite draining on him to be in a cloud of negativity, constantly."
In a recent television interview, Palin referred to her critics as "haters."
"Slang for those who are going to constantly ... find something to criticize because they don't seem like they're very happy or fulfilled people," she said in a phone interview with the Daily News last week.
Halcro, in turn, says Palin attacks people who disagree with her, and that he hasn't gone after her appearance. "I don't attack her personally. I go after her policies. Sarah's the one who turns around and makes it personal."
On Wednesday, Palin gathered reporters to release a tape of one of her staff members talking about Wooten to a trooper. The call could be perceived as her administration pressuring the Department of Public Safety, but wasn't, she said.
Halcro caught the tail end of the press conference on the radio at home. As usual, he wasn't buying parts of what she said.
By 9 p.m., he had posted his first blog about it.
Read Kyle Hopkins on our Alaska Politics blog at adn.com/alaskapolitics, or call him at 257-4334.
BLOG: Take a look at the site that is making waves in the Alaska political scene.