Sixteen years ago, “establishment” Republicans helped fuel Sarah Palin’s gubernatorial election, putting her on the road to celebrity she’s traveled ever since.
As president of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women (AFRW) then, I had a front-row seat to that history.
When Gov. Frank Murkowski ran for reelection in 2006, he was challenged in the primary by Palin and businessman John Binkley. Palin was already a polarizing figure in Republican circles, but she won that August 2006 primary fair and square, garnering 50.59%.
Uncomfortable with the prospect of the 42-year-old former Wasilla mayor becoming governor, some Republicans bolted the party to join the Tony Knowles team or back the independent candidacy of Andrew Halcro.
For duty-bound Republicans, a third Knowles term was never an alternative, and we found comfort in Palin’s running mate Sean Parnell, a well-respected former legislator who knew how to get things done in Juneau. Palin, however, was broke and needed money to beat the Democrat machine. It was the check-writing women of the Republican Party who nursed the Palin campaign to financial health and legitimacy in its critical first weeks.
Immediately after the primary, AFRW and its eight clubs from Ketchikan to Kenai cobbled together $45,000 to help launch Palin’s campaign. The moderate Myrna Maynard was AFRW treasurer at the time. Never a Palin fan, she soldiered on, signed the checks and filed the APOC reports.
On Sept. 13, 2006, we brought Washington state senator Dino Rossi to Anchorage for a Palin fundraiser. Rossi had lost his state’s 2004 race for governor by 129 votes in the closest gubernatorial election in the history of the United States. An engaging, dynamic speaker with substantial Republican cred, Rossi rallied the establishment crowd for Palin.
On Sept. 15, Juneau’s reviled “RINOs” (”Republicans in name only”) hosted a $250-per-plate fundraising dinner for Palin. We packed the room.
The Anchorage Republican Women’s Club’s October 2006 newsletter featured a column by Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose father had been beaten by Palin in the primary two months earlier. With characteristic grace and generosity (not to mention loyalty to the party), Lisa wrote that, “Sarah Palin offers us a new generation of Republican leadership at the state level. We had eight years of empty promises and failed initiatives with Tony Knowles, and we cannot afford to go backwards.”
With Parnell pulling in votes from mainstream Republicans, AFRW fundraising, the blessing of our Republican congressional delegation and Halcro taking votes from Knowles, Palin eked out a victory on Nov. 7, 2006.
We never expected anything for our financial and institutional support. But Palin might have at least resisted the temptation to trash Republicans every time she played the “maverick” card.
Instead, after defeating Knowles in 2006, in 2008 Palin threw Republican Sen. Ted Stevens under the bus and also helped try to unseat Don Young. In 2014, she betrayed her loyal lieutenant governor Parnell by endorsing his Democrat-backed opponent Bill Walker, who shared her antipathy for the oil industry. Finally, in the Aug. 16, 2022, special election, Palin refused to promote a “rank the red” strategy to keep the congressional seat in Republican hands. At least for now, a Democrat has it.
Flush with fame and fortune, the 58-year-old grandmother of eight is still absent a grateful heart, and despite her rhetoric, as shown by her record, is hardly a reliable conservative. We can forget the history and get burned again. Fortunately, all Alaskans have an excellent alternative in Nick Begich.
Paulette Simpson is a past president of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women. She lives in Douglas.
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