A few days ago, I was speaking on the telephone with Domonic "Nick" Carney, one of those delightful, special characters that one often encounters from Alaska. The son of a salt-of-the-earth family that made a Grapes of Wrath migration to the Alaska Territory in the 1950s, Carney was one of five members of the graduating class of Wasilla High School in 1959 (he was valedictorian and likes to note that he "graduated as the top-20 percent of his class"). A Dartmouth alum, he eventually made his way back to Alaska to serve in the private and public spheres, both with distinction, before retiring with his wife, Kay, to Utah, where they're able to play golf a little longer each year than they were in the Matanuska Valley.
Most people don't know of Nick Carney, but we have Nick to thank, ahem, for bringing the phenomenon known as Sarah Palin into the political arena for the first time. In the early 1990s, when community business leaders were in search of a tax base and police force, it was Carney, then president of the local Chamber of Commerce, who helped persuade Palin to run for her first City Council seat in the 1992 election. She received all of 530 votes--less than most candidates receive in high-school student-body races--to win her seat, alongside Carney, on the Wasilla City Council.
What Carney and I were discussing was Palin's obsession a few years later, in the mid-1990s, with then Mayor of Wasilla, John Stein, on whom she launched a vicious and personalized attack during her inaugural campaign for mayor in 1996. Carney calls that campaign "the end of Wasilla's innocence." Palin initiated a "whisper campaign" against Stein suggesting that he was Jewish--in a community of right-wing evangelicals. (Not that it should have mattered, but he was not; he was Lutheran.) And she also questioned whether or not Stein was properly married, because his wife didn't share Stein's last name. "[Palin] was like a pitbull," Carney said. "She wouldn't let go." The obsession with Stein carried on long after the election, during which time Palin garnered a mere 651 votes on her road to victory.
This obsessive quality of Palin's to both demonize and vilify an opponent has repeated itself frequently and consistently in her brief political career, whether it be John Stein, Frank and Lisa Murkowski, Walt Monegan or Katie Couric. Or Barack Obama, for that matter. And, now, the newly named White House Chief of Staff, Pete Rouse.
Rouse, of course, is the widely respected legislative aide who served as Obama's chief of staff when he was a U.S. Senator and as a senior advisor on his presidential campaign. He also happens to have Alaska roots--roots much deeper than Sarah Palin's. In a portrait of Rouse that appeared last year in the Anchorage Daily News, the fine Alaska writer Tom Kizzia noted that Rouse's mother, the daughter of Japanese immigrants who arrived in Alaska in 1915, went on to become the valedictorian of Anchorage High School and, later, earned a Ph.D. at Yale.
Those are the type of Alaska bona fides that are profoundly intimidating to Palin. When Palin first caught a sniff that Rouse might be named as White House Chief of Staff, she went apoplectic. You can always tell that Palin has an obsession by the frequency (and level of illiteracy) in her tweets. On September 22, she noted:
(Rahm's the smart one...bailing before Nov) Now, check out possible COS Pete Rouse. His background, voter reg in AK,etc. It's a small world [sic]
And then just three minutes later, she was at it again:
Alaska's Pete Rouse (@ least he claims to be "Alaska")finally comes out of the shadows; Obama looks to appt him COS;strange doings in the WH [sic]
The digs at Rouse claiming to be "Alaska" were classic Palin: allegation, innuendo, no substance. "Strange doings"? The only things strange, it would seem to me, are the varied and irrational processes going on in Palin's mind.
Less than a week later, Palin's obsessions were driving her yet again:
Alaska media slept on the job for how many years re: Obama senior advisor Pete Rouse's claim to be AK resident and "local" voter? For shame.
For shame? What is shameful is that Palin most certainly is aware of Alaska statutes related to voter registration. Last week I contacted Alaska's Division of Elections Director, Gail Fenumiai, who informed me that "as long as a voter claims intent to return to Alaska, they may remain a registered voter in the State." The actual statute (Sec. 15.05.020) asserts that Alaska residency is not lost "while in the civil or military service of this state or of the United States." Nearly all of Rouse's career has been in the civil service of his country.
Palin knows this residency law because during her erratic, five-year collegiate odyssey that took her to various campuses in Hawaii and Idaho, she maintained her voter residency in the Last Frontier. (Alaska records indicate that she voted in Wasilla in 1984, 1985 and 1986 when she was "away" to college.) More significantly, her appointment of Dan Sullivan in June of last year to the post of Alaska Attorney General clearly raised the issue. In an article appearing in the Anchorage Daily News, Sean Cockerham reported:
Sullivan left Alaska in 2002 after receiving a White House fellowship from [George W.] Bush....The Alaska Bar Association registry lists Sullivan with an address in Bethesda, Maryland, but he said he's now moved back into his home in Anchorage. Records show he received permanent fund dividends at Alaska addresses from 1999 through 2002, and then in 2003 with a Washington, D.C., address. He voted absentee in Alaska elections as recently as 2008.
Anyone who has spent any time in Alaska is aware of this law, and Palin's raising this issue as some sort of political scandal is thoroughly duplicitous. The shame is purely on Palin.
But that is really only the half of it. In Going Rogue, her highly fictionalized "memoir," Palin goes after Rouse as well. She accuses Rouse of being part of a secret cabal, including Rahm Emanuel, out to get Palin over her various misdeeds as Governor. Indeed, she places the Troopergate scandal that engulfed her governorship as being directed by "Democrats with close ties to a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, Pete Rouse, then Senator Obama's chief of staff." That takes some stretch, seeing that it was Alaska's Republican-dominated Legislative Council that initiated the first Troopergate investigation--well before Palin was named as John McCain's running mate.
In a portrait of Palin in Time Magazine following her resignation in July of 2009, Palin's then-spokesperson Meg Stapleton also alleged that attacks on Palin in Alaska were emanating from the White House. "The trail is pretty direct and pretty obvious to us," Stapleton declared with no small amount of paranoia. According to Time:
Palin and her Alaska circle find evidence for their suspicions about the White House in the person of Pete Rouse, who lived in Juneau for a time before he became chief of staff to a young U.S. Senator named Barack Obama. Rouse, they note, is a friend of former Alaska state senator Kim Elton, who pushed the first ethics investigation of Palin, examining her controversial firing of the state's public-safety commissioner. Both Rouse and Elton have joined the Obama Administration.
What didn't make the printed version of the magazine, but was included in a blog by Time correspondent Jay Newton-Small, were two additional comments by Stapleton. "I just hope to God Rahm Emanuel isn't using taxpayer money to come after Alaska," Stapleton declared. She then offered that the reason for this conspiratorial effort was because Palin "represents the biggest threat to Obama. She's the only one who can get the base excited."
Aha! So the reason that Palin was facing all those ethics charges in Alaska was because Obama, Rouse and Emanuel were tugging on those puppet strings all the way from Washington. And because Obama & Co. are terrified of a Palin presidential bid in 2012.
And if that's not delusional enough for you, take yet another astonishing passage from Going Rogue, in which Palin comments on the uniqueness of her 2006 run for the governorship.
Every part of our campaign shouted 'Change!'... We were amused a couple of years later when Barack Obama, one of whose senior advisers (come to think of it) had roots in Alaska--adopted the same theme.
Wow. Sarah Palin was the first political candidate to come up with the theme of "Change" for a campaign. And Pete Rouse and Barack Obama stole it from her. The outrage!
Which brings me back to Nick Carney, Palin's former colleague on the Wasilla City Council. "Once she gets onto something, she can't let it go," he told me. "She would do anything back then to discredit [her opponent] John Stein--anything. And she would say anything to get people to support her. It didn't matter if it was true. The truth never seemed to matter to her."
Award-winning writer and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn's book The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power will be published by St. Martin's Press in February of 2011.