In early 2008, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin continued to foster an image as an anti-corruption government reformer. It was a sentiment sweeping Alaska, and it helped propel Palin in her quest to unseat an increasingly unpopular patriarch in Alaska Republican politics, predecessor Frank Murkowski, 18 months earlier. Now at the helm for more than a year, Palin was still preaching her "clean up politics" mission, while also setting her sights on higher political aspirations.
Emails released by the state Friday from Palin's time as governor show her trying to find a common bond with U.S. Sen. John McCain -- both were considered mavericks in their party -- months before the Arizona senator picked her as his presidential running mate.
"Is it possible to get hooked up (maybe by Nick Ayers?) with someone from the McCain campaign?" Palin wrote in January 2008 to three of her top aides. "Let them know my relationship w/the state party (McCain goes through the same thing on Nat'l level), so party will never hook me up as the could have/should have to speak to candidates before Super Tuesday."
The email continues: "Normally a Gov is asked to weigh in via state party leadership. Obviously we'll have to do this ourselves at the last minute."
Much in the same way she's railing against "politics as usual" today as she decides whether to run for president, Palin ran in Alaska against what she called the "good old boys" -- the Republican establishment. And in the same email from January 2008, she showed it. Palin outlined her terms for speaking at any Republican convention, saying, "I only will if I get to put together a candid, blunt 'change your ways, GOP' speech that demands changes in leadership or folks are going to bail."
Party business on state time
Palin had gotten crosswise with the Alaska Republican Party in 2003 when she worked with state GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich at the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Both had been appointed as commissioners by then-Republican Gov. Murkowski. Critics said Ruedrich, a former oilman himself and the state party chief, had a conflict of interest working at the oil regulator. Palin later ratted on Ruedrich for doing party business on state time. That move forced Ruedrich to resign and resulted in state ethics fines against him. For Palin, it earned her a squeaky-clean reputation, but placed the former Wasilla mayor at odds with old-guard Republicans in Alaska.
Now a Republican governor, she faced a sometimes hostile GOP in Alaska. But Palin still believed her party was full of "good old boys," and she continued to speak up when she saw examples.
In September 2007, Palin emailed three advisors a memo titled "Confidential. Ben" – referring to former state Sen. Ben Stevens, son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who died last year:
"Sheeeesh – I went on AK GOP website last night. Ben is STILL the GOP National Committeeman! So he and Ruedrich are still the faces of the party in the state and they represent the party nationally.
"It is time to call for Ben's ouster from that position. A short comment on this is long overdue, and now that Ben's been named as one who was bribed (duh…), it's irresponsible of me NOT to call for him to step down."
By mid-March 2008, she turned her attention to Ruedrich. She and a regional GOP official named Joe Miller joined forces to oust Ruedrich from his chairmanship of the Alaska Republican Party. Two days after Palin suggested getting in touch with McCain's people, disenchanted members of the state GOP and supporters of Palin were asking her to take out Ruedrich.
"We were thinking it would be nice if you could open the (annual state GOP) convention and give a (little or big) hint that Randy needs to go," Debbie Joslin, a then soon-to-be national committeewoman for the Alaska Republican Party, wrote to Palin on her firstname.lastname@example.org account. "The pieces are in place now to be rid of him."
The attempted power grab was so intense that Miller, a government attorney in Fairbanks at the time, used his coworkers' computers to try to stack an opinion poll against Ruedrich days before the convention, a fact Miller tried but failed to hide when he unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2010. (Palin supported Miller's Senate bid last year, and he ended up losing to incumbent Lisa Murkowski, daughter of Frank Murkowski.)
At the 2008 Alaska GOP convention, Palin delivered a speech railing against corruption and calling for changes in the party's leadership. She told the crowd, "the status quo isn't working."
It was at this convention where Alaska's current governor, Sean Parnell (lieutenant governor at the time under Palin) announced he would challenge U.S. Rep. Don Young -- one of those Republican "good old boys" in Palin's book -- in the 2008 election. Palin supported his run.
About an hour before Parnell went public with his candidacy, Palin sent an email about his plans to at least 15 staff members. The email's subject was "Holy Moly" -- an expression she often used in her emails as governor:
"Hang on to your hats," she wrote. "We got the machine after us now! Sean's filing at noon-DY (Don Young) is one angry bear."
The delegates voted 167-133 to keep Ruedrich in his position and Parnell lost to Young in the GOP primary election several months later.
No GOP love?
By Aug. 9, 2008 – 20 days before McCain announced Palin as his vice presidential pick – the former Wasilla mayor was scaling back her travel plans to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. She planned to give two speeches, and because her husband, Todd, and her young son, Trig, would not be there, she wanted to abbreviate the trip, according to her emails.
She suggested spending three days, instead of five, at the national convention. Rather than a large entourage, she felt she would need only a single staff member at her side. And, she told her schedulers in an Aug. 9, 2008 email, there was one more reason to keep the trip short:
"…we need to remember the GOP, for the most part… especially the AK machine…has not had any support of assistance provided our administration so our time and efforts will continue to be spent on serving Alaskans, not party politics."
Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.