State staffers follow Palin to St. Paul

AIDES: Four who are on payroll have been told to limit work to Alaska business.

September 4, 2008 

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has plenty of help -- state-paid help -- by her side in St. Paul, Minn., where she's appearing this week as John McCain's vice presidential running mate.

Four public employees are with Palin at the Republican National Convention and working on the state time clock.

They include Mike Nizich, her chief of staff; Kris Perry, director of the governor's Anchorage office; Bob Cockrell, one of Palin's security special agents; and Bill McAllister, the governor's communications director.

All are traveling with Palin to help her continue to do her job as Alaska's chief executive, McAllister said, even as she pursues the vice presidency.

"The governor, wherever she goes, is still the governor," he said.

All four state employees in the governor's entourage already had plane and hotel reservations for St. Paul, even before Friday's bombshell that McCain had picked Palin to be his running mate, McAllister said.

"We were going to be here anyway," he said.

Before the big announcement, Palin had been expected to attend this week's convention only as one of the event's many speakers.

The average pay for the four Palin aides is $110,000 a year. Because they are working on state time, they're working strictly on state business, not campaign business, McAllister said.

"I don't get into national politics or Democrats versus Republicans," he said, speaking of his own role.

He conceded he's not been very busy in St. Paul, where the campaign took control of Palin and "had her sequestered" before her Wednesday night speech.

"In fact, I've been kind of frustrated by the scant amount of time I've had with the governor," McAllister said.

Perry is a longtime friend of Palin's from their hometown of Wasilla. She managed Palin's campaign for governor in 2006, and was with Palin last week when the governor met secretly in Arizona with McCain and his aides to talk about the vice presidency.

Randy Ruaro, Palin's deputy chief of staff in Juneau, said Palin and her people in St. Paul are staying in regular contact with commissioners and other staff in Alaska. He said Nizich is scheduled to return to Alaska tonight, and noted the state employees probably won't travel with Palin as she campaigns across the country with McCain in the push to the Nov. 4 election.

"I don't expect these folks to be constantly out of state," Ruaro said.

SETTING BOUNDARIES

A concern for state employees is keeping state business separate from campaign business, Ruaro said.

On Wednesday, Judy Bockmon, the state ethics attorney, briefed the governor's statewide staff on state law with respect to "where the boundaries are" and how to deal with certain situations, Ruaro said.

As an example, the governor's office in Juneau has received checks in the mail from Palin campaign supporters, said Sharon Leighow, a Palin spokeswoman. And state officials have been inundated with calls from reporters and others with inquiries related to the national campaign.

The checks will be returned, and people with campaign questions will be directed to the McCain campaign, Leighow said.

ADVANTAGES TO ALASKA

State Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican and member of the powerful House Finance Committee, said he has no problem with some state-paid staffers accompanying Palin in St. Paul, so long as they stick to state business.

"Alaska, as a state, is on the world's stage," Hawker said. "It is a very legitimate state interest for employees of the executive office to be there in the wings of that stage making sure we get presented in the best and proper light."

Hawker added: "I do have a problem if they step across that line into campaigning."

Anchorage Republican Rep. Bob Lynn, who is attending the convention as a voting delegate, said too many people are trying to "nitpick" or criticize the governor.

If Palin becomes vice president, the state could be looking at benefits far beyond the cost of having a few state employees on the road.

"Because of her influence as vice president, we might be able to open ANWR, who knows?" said Lynn, referring to the long-frustrated prospect of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

OTHER GOVERNORS

Palin is far from the only sitting governor to campaign for national office. As McAllister noted, the most recent two presidents did it -- George W. Bush of Texas and Bill Clinton from Arkansas.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was a Democratic contender for president this year and spent time on the road. But generally, his aides were campaign employees and weren't on the state payroll, said Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.

Richardson attended the recent Democratic National Convention in Denver and took some aides with him, but all took time off to attend the event with the exception of security staff, Gallegos said.

"You have to strike a balance -- try not to use state resources if it's something that's obviously political," he said.


Find Wesley Loy online at adn.com/contact/wloy or call 257-4590.

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