Palin defends Alaska earmark requests

September 12, 2008 

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin today defended the nearly $200 million in federal pet projects she sought as Alaska governor this year, even as John McCain told a television audience she had never requested them.

In the second part of her interview with ABC News, Palin was confronted with two claims that have been a staple of her reputation since joining the GOP ticket: that she was opposed to federal earmarks, even though her requests for such special spending projects for 2009 were the highest per capita in the nation; and that she opposed the $398 million "bridge to nowhere" linking Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport.

Palin actually turned against the bridge project only after it became a national symbol of wasteful spending and Congress had pulled money for it.

Palin told ABC's Charles Gibson that since she took office, the state had "drastically" reduced its efforts to secure earmarks and would continue to do so while she was governor.

"What I've been telling Alaskans for these years that I've been in office is, no more," Palin said.

(Portions of the interview air in Alaska at 5:30 p.m. on "World News" and in an hourlong "20/20" program at 9 p.m.)

When Gibson noted she had requested money to study the mating habits of crabs and harbor-seal genetic research - the kind of small-bore projects that draw McCain's ire - Palin said the specific requests had come through universities and other public entities and weren't worked out by lobbyists behind closed doors.

On the Ketchikan bridge, Palin said she had supported a link from the mainland to the airport but not necessarily the costly bridge project.

"It's not inappropriate for a mayor or for a governor to request and to work with their Congress and their congressmen, their congresswomen, to plug into the federal budget, along with every other state, a share of the federal budget for infrastructure," Palin said.

Palin's comments came after McCain sat for a feisty grilling on ABC's "The View," in which he claimed erroneously that his running mate hadn't sought money for such pet projects.

"Not as governor she didn't," McCain said, ignoring the record.

The panel of female hosts also pressed McCain on Palin's religious views, his position on abortion rights and whether he had traded in his maverick ways to placate conservatives.

In Alaska, meanwhile, the investigator looking into whether Palin abused her power as governor in trying to fire her former brother-in-law asked state lawmakers for the power to subpoena Palin's husband, Todd, a dozen others and the phone records of a top aide. The state House and Senate judiciary committees were expected to grant the request.

Palin was in Alaska on Friday and scheduled to attend a campaign rally in Nevada on Saturday while McCain took the day off, a reflection of her growing status as the GOP ticket's celebrity draw.

Palin had kind words for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, months after suggesting that Obama's rival for the Democratic nomination had been whining about tough press coverage.

"What determination, and grit, and even grace through some tough shots that were fired her way - she handled those well," Palin told ABC News.

In March, Palin was asked about coverage of Clinton at a Newsweek forum, and said: "Fair or unfair, I think she does herself a disservice to even mention it, really. I mean, you gotta plow through that. You have to know what you're getting into ... when I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or you know maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, 'That doesn't do us any good - women in politics.' "

On "The View," McCain said Palin had "ignited a spark" among voters but acknowledged they parted ways on certain issues. The Arizona senator has said human behavior is largely responsible for climate change and opposes drilling for oil in a federally protected refuge, for example.

McCain appeared to back off a bit from his claim that Palin was the best vice presidential pick in U.S. history when he joked, "We politicians are never given to exaggeration or hyperbole."

The GOP hopeful also stood by two debunked campaign commercials - one which said Obama favored comprehensive sex education for kindergarten students and another that suggested Obama had called Palin a pig. Both are factually inaccurate.

Obama, as an Illinois state senator, voted for legislation that would teach age-appropriate sex education to kindergartners, including information on rejecting advances by sexual predators. And while Obama told a campaign rally this week that McCain's policies were like "putting lipstick on a pig," he never used the phrase in connection with Palin.

"Those ads aren't true. They're lies," said "View" co-host Joy Behar.

"They're not lies," McCain said, insisting that Obama "chooses his words very carefully" and should never have made the lipstick remark.

McCain defended Palin's conservative religious views but said as president he would maintain a clear separation of church and state. To a smattering of boos, he reiterated his opposition to Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion rights.

McCain looked irked when Behar asked him whether he had jettisoned his independence as a candidate by appearing to be in "lockstep" with President Bush's policies.

"What specific area have I, quote, 'changed'? Nobody can name it," McCain said.

McCain has changed positions on significant issues. For example, he once opposed Bush's tax cuts but now supports making them permanent. He had opposed lifting the ban on additional offshore oil exploration but now calls for drilling off the U.S. coast. He had been against mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions but now favors them.

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