LEMOORE, Calif. — Sarah Palin returned to Central California's agricultural region Sunday and lambasted the federal government for limiting the amount of water the state's farmers can get for their crops.
The former Alaska governor told more than 1,400 people at West Hills College in Lemoore that endangered species regulations protecting the Delta smelt and limiting pumping are "destroying" the lives of those in the Central Valley.
"A faceless government is taking away their lifeline, water, all because of a 3-inch fish," Palin said. "Where I come from, a 3-inch fish, we call that bait. There is no need to destroy people's lives over bait."
Palin also spoke about high gas prices, dependence on foreign oil, the need for domestic drilling and limiting currency inflation.
"The government should get out of our way and let us get this economy moving again," she said. "Instead of drilling ourselves and circulating the money here, we're relying on foreign regimes."
The audience in what is generally a conservative region was supportive, cheering and applauding loudly. Someone even broke out with, "We love you Sarah!"
"It was awesome, she was right on," said Doug Freitas, a Lemoore farmer, after the speech. "About water, there are farmers who can't grow their crops, these hardworking people can't pay their bills. And the deficit, it's so scary and it seems like the general public doesn't realize it."
Palin's visit last year to California State University, Stanislaus – about 120 miles away – generated controversy after the university's nonprofit foundation refused to divulge the terms of her contract and speaking fee.
The public university eventually revealed its foundation paid Palin $75,000 to give a 40-minute speech, and the event raised more than $207,000 for scholarships.
This time, West Hills College's president, Don Warkentin, said its foundation paid the Washington Speakers Bureau $115,000 to land Palin for the inauguration of the college's newly built Golden Eagle Arena.
Warkentin said he didn't know the exact amount Palin will receive. But he said the foundation has recouped the fee by selling tickets to a private, post-speech dinner with the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate.
Money from ticket sales will go toward scholarships and maintenance of the sports complex, Warkentin said.
"California is in deep trouble," he said. "So we're doing things like this to try to maintain our programs and raise money for our students."
The school, which has an enrollment of 3,000 this semester, did not provide an estimate of other costs associated with Palin's visit, including security, decorations and janitorial services.
Palin is the first of several high profile figures the university will host as part of its new distinguished speaker series. Former first lady Laura Bush is scheduled to speak at the sports arena in September. Next February, Princeton scholar Cornell West will visit.
State Sen. Leland Yee, who criticized UC Stanislaus for not releasing how much it paid Palin, praised the college in Lemoore for being more transparent.
"I'm very pleased the foundation disclosed how much they will be paying Palin," Yee said. "I'm a little disappointed by the fact that Palin is a millionaire and our students are struggling, some of them cannot afford to go to college. I was hoping Sarah Palin would defer the fee and do the speech for the goodness of the college and for our students."