Former Gov. Sarah Palin resurfaced in Alaska politics Wednesday, calling an Anchorage radio talk show to heap praise on the former oil tax regime she helped put into law, take a jab at Gov. Sean Parnell's ties to the oil industry, and all but endorse one of his opponents in this year's governor's race, attorney Bill Walker.
An elusive and enigmatic presence in Alaska after she became a national celebrity and resigned as governor in 2009, Palin has long been quiet in state politics. But many have wondered where she stood on state issues, including Senate Bill 21, the tax cut for oil producers that in January replaced the 2007 tax system that Palin signed into law and that brought the state billions in income.
Palin left little question about her stance during her phone call to KWHL-FM's Bob and Mark Show-- a hard rock station morning show on which she has appeared before and where she has said she'd announce a presidential run if she ever decides to do that.
During her call, she said people may be forgetting about the behavior that helped lead to a sweeping corruption investigation by the FBI-- landing some state lawmakers in jail -- and the passage of ACES.
Palin said Alaskans who aren't getting angry are buying into a "lot of highly-funded PR campaigns coming from those who are not putting Alaska first," an apparent reference to the millions of dollars spent by the oil industry-- primarily BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp. --to protect the tax cut.
"Crony capitalism is a problem in Alaska," Palin said. "Did people forget the Corrupt Bastards Club? There are still remnants of that in our state capital."
The tax break was introduced by Parnell, Palin's former lieutenant governor who took office when she left. It removed the progressive feature of Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share that took more from producers as oil prices rose. With Senate Bill 21 in place, Alaska stands to lose billions of dollars in the coming years, opponents say. Voters will decide between the two tax laws when a referendum on Senate Bill 21 appears on the primary election ballot in August.
A spokesman with the Parnell re-election campaign, Jerry Gallagher, who like Parnell is a former ConocoPhillips lobbyist, directed inquiries to Parnell's state office. Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for the governor's office, issued a statement praising Senate Bill 21, also known as the More Alaska Production Act. The email didn't mention Palin.
"The More Alaska Production Act is already working for Alaskans," Leighow said. "It offers balance by protecting Alaskans when oil prices are low while still encouraging new investment when prices are high."
"Since Governor Parnell signed the legislation last May, Alaskans have benefitted from billions of dollars in new investment, more rigs on the North Slope, more than 1,000 new jobs at Pt. Thomson, increased traffic along the Dalton Highway, and more pipe being shipped north on the Alaska Railroad. Results matter."
SUPPORT FROM PALIN A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
In her phone call to the radio station, Palin swiped at Parnell, who is expected to face Walker, running as an independent, and Democrat Byron Mallott in the November general election.
"Well, bless his heart," Palin said of Parnell after one of the hosts asked why Parnell switched his loyalty from the Palin-era tax system he once supported to the new tax cut. "Remember that Sean Parnell came from the oil industry. He was an employee of ConocoPhillips, being an attorney for the cause there, lobbying for the cause there. Perhaps that's ingrained in him."
Palin said ACES allowed producers and Alaskans to share in the financial ups and downs of the oil industry.
"There's nothing wrong with that," Palin said. "It was nonpartisan, remember? That was the beauty of it, too. People who understood ACES and supported it, it didn't matter what party affiliation you were. It was just common sense and math and crunching numbers to show that both sides, oil companies and service companies and the state of Alaska, benefit."
Palin said it would be "wrong-headed" of Alaskans to cave in to the oil companies that are doing just fine, adding that "our constitution lays out that perfect blueprint for Alaska to be solvent and sovereign" with the state's resources existing for the benefit of state residents.
Efforts to reach Palin were unsuccessful.
Organizers of the campaign to repeal the tax cut issued a press release highlighting Palin's comments.
Vic Fischer, chair of the repeal effort, said he acknowledged that Palin's words could be something of a double-edged sword for his effort.
They will shine a lot of attention on the repeal effort and highlight how the oil industry is trying to manipulate voters, he said. He added, though, that many Alaskans resent Palin's sudden departure from office.
"But I'm always happy when someone starts to stir the pot, regardless of who gets splashed in the process," said Fischer.
Willis Lyford, spokesman for the ballot group Vote No on 1, said "It's not surprising a governor would defend policies she put into place. ACES was well intended at the time; certainly the governor and all the legislators who supported it believed it made sense at the time. But six or seven years later, we realize it's not the solution to the problem, which is declining oil production."
PALIN: 'WE NEED A FIGHTER'
In her call, Palin showed strong support for Walker, saying he has his "thumb on the pulse."
Walker understands that the way to develop the state's resources is "to be ethical, to be forthright with the people, to explain what our constitution means when it says that we develop our resources for the benefit of the people. Walker has been absolutely spot-on with these comments, and his beliefs," Palin said.
Palin brushed off questions about whether she wished she'd picked a different lieutenant governor, saying voters chose Parnell.
She also seemed to suggest that Walker was the fighter Alaskans need to stand up to the federal government and cronyism at the state level in Alaska.
Doing that takes "blood and guts and of course I say that figuratively," she said. "I mean, I'm gonna hear about a comment like that later --- bunch of wimps out there that can't understand what I say."
"But we need a fighter, we need somebody who's gonna stand up for this state, for the residents of Alaska pushing back on those within the state and outside of our state who would engage in crony capitalism."
Walker said Palin's comments show that his message attracts Alaskans from all walks of life, and that he agreed with her use of the word "crony capitalism."
"The greatest example of that is what (Parnell) did by trying to appoint people from out of state onto a board that values the pipeline," Walker said. "If that isn't crony capitalism, I don't know what is."
Asked if Palin's support will help him or hurt him, Walker said, "I don't quite look at it that way. I can't control what someone says about me. But I appreciate her acknowledgement of my vision and passion for Alaska."
Reach Alex DeMarban at email@example.com.
By Alex DeMarban