So far Gov. Palin's handling of Alaska's Troopergate has focused on why Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan was fired. An equally important question is why Chuck Kopp was hired to replace him.
On June 30, 2008, David Brody of CBS News reported John McCain met in North Carolina with Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, director of the multimillion- dollar Samaritan's Place faith-based charitable organization. McCain was courting the religious right who, at the time, were skeptical of his social conservatism and his Christian qualifications. After the meeting Graham issued a statement praising McCain's "personal faith" and added, "We had an opportunity to pray ... for God's will to be done in this upcoming election."
Subsequent events suggest that the price of support for McCain by the fundamentalist Christian leadership would be a vice presidential candidate of their liking. Gov. Palin was a logical choice for Franklin Graham, whose ties to Alaska include a palatial, by Bush Alaska standards, second home in Port Alsworth: a community that has often served as a retreat for Christian fundamentalist leaders.
But Gov. Palin did not promote a socially conservative agenda during her first two years as governor and some Alaska right-wing commentators called her an economic liberal. Send us a sign, national fundamentalist Christian leaders seemingly said, that proves your credentials. In firing Monegan and hiring Kopp, Palin would have gained a controversial measure of revenge in a family dispute and established her standing as a Christian conservative politician.
Kenai City Police Chief Chuck Kopp was a rising star in Alaska's Christian conservative movement. He was a frequent speaker at local religious and patriotic gatherings. He was school board president of Cook Inlet Academy, the fundamentalist Christian high school in Soldotna his missionary-educator father founded. Kopp also was on the board of Port Alsworth's Tanailan Bible Camp, also founded by his father.
Through Samaritan's Place, Franklin Graham has been the chief benefactor of the Tanailan Bible Camp building and rebuilding a church and meeting hall and guest cabins. The evangelical scion of Alaska, Rev. Jerry Prevo of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, is on Samaritan Purse's Board of Directors, so there's a clear connection between Graham, Prevo and Kopp.
Kopp's nomination quickly ran into trouble because of sexual harassment reprimands while Kenai police chief, but Palin's willingness to appoint him to a high state position along with her anti-abortion, pro-creationist beliefs seems to have solidified her position as the one to ignite the base for McCain. Kevin Merida reported in the Washington Post that when Palin met with the Alaska delegation after her nomination during the recent Republican National Convention, Rev. Prevo, a member of the delegation, said Palin asked them to pray for her. Then Prevo handed the governor his cell phone; it was Franklin Graham calling to congratulate her.
Palin's connection to what Jeff Sharlett has called "elite fundamentalism" is of interest now that she is an election and a heartbeat away from the presidency. Franklin Graham has been the keynote speaker for the Alaska Governor's Prayer Breakfast the past two years. According to their Web site, the organizers believe, "God directs the affairs of Man and is the ultimate authority over human events." The Alaska Governor's Prayer Breakfast is connected to the National Prayer Breakfast sponsored by The Fellowship Foundation, also known as "The Family," which espouses similar beliefs. The Family is headed by Doug Coe, one of the most influential evangelicals in Washington, D.C. Coe's group tends to operate behind the scenes organizing small cells attended by the power elite, mostly Republicans. George Bush was saved in such a cell while in Texas.
Elite fundamentalists believe, according to Sharlett, not only in religious determinism but that they are personally chosen by God to be in positions of power. By claiming divine legitimacy of their political power, elite fundamentalists relegate the opposition to being the devil's tool. They are making a frighteningly close return to the pre-enlightenment concept of rule by divine right, which our founding fathers rejected as anathema to democracy and established, instead, the separation of church and state lest decisions be made on the basis of good versus evil rather than wise versus unwise.
Whether or not Sarah Palin pandered to the Christian fundamentalist right on the back of a good man's career and believes she was chosen by God only she can say. Likewise, only John McCain can say whether he sold his political soul and selected the least prepared vice presidential candidate in United States history for the sake of political gain. The electorate deserves some answers.
Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.