As the clock ticks down on Sarah Palin and her final response to President Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, she has found herself painted into a shrinking political corner in which she finds herself at odds with just about every interest group in Alaska--Democrats and Republicans alike, young and old, Native Alaskans and several civic groups like the Alaska Municipal League.
Palin has until May 25 to sign or veto a bill approving the funds. If she vetoes the $930.7 million stimulus package, or any portion of it, she will risk further angering Alaska constituents, as her approval numbers have been in serious freefall since she returned from the campaign trail last November. If she votes to accept the entire package, it will be viewed as a final cave-in to her original opposition and will carve away her support among the conservative base in the national Republican Party.
Either way, it's a no-win proposition that she orchestrated for herself in January when she pandered to Rush Limbaugh & Co. by slamming Obama's stimulus proposal. She called it "an unsustainable, debt-ridden package of funds." At one point she likened it to "a bribe." A smart poker player might have held her cards closer to the vest and let the hand unfold. Her play was a loser from the first draw.
It's a given that a stimulus package is needed and will happen. With guaranteed spending on the table, I am arguing for needed construction projects and tax breaks that will truly stimulate the economy and create jobs, and against increased federal programs that will become a state's unfunded mandate to continue funding for generations.
Huh? Palin's position put her in the same ring with other gubernatorial clown-acts gathering for the 2012 Republican circus, including Bobby Jindal, Mark Sanford and Rick Perry. But it also placed her in direct conflict with several Republican and independent allies in Alaska facing the cold, hard realities of an economic recession. Federal projections are that the stimulus would "create or save" 8,700 jobs in the Last Frontier over the next two years--this in a state with a work force of only 300,000 and a 9.3 percent unemployment rate.
Many in Alaska saw Palin's stance for what it was--calculated political posturing purely for her own personal benefit. "I'm worried the governor is taking this sort of national political stance," said Anchorage Democratic legislator Les Gara, "which is that she's going to be the opposite of Barack Obama on everything."
In April, Palin held one of her bizarre, unscripted news conferences (where her body language screamed that she would rather be somewhere else), and as the delightful Alaska blog Mudflats reported, Palin spouted the same economic gobbledygook that she introduced to the American electorate during her infamous interview with Katie Couric:
We're gonna consider how to manage the public's expectation desiring the lawmakers and the public acknowledge these are short-term temporary funds that should not lead to government growth two years from now when the dollars are gone, and we will...we will consider on a case by case basis whether the dollars need to be applied for or the dollars that are in the budget today could or should be vetoed. It's going to be a long process still in deciding what to do with the dollars.
Yes, folks, that is a direct quote.
Palin indicated that she was initially going to veto more than 30 percent--or $288 million--of the stimulus package. Her reasoning was that it "would grow government" and leave the State of Alaska holding the bag for expanded programs two years down the line when the funds ran out. She then floated a proposal to accept the stimulus funding if the legislature agreed to cut state spending, primarily for education, and use the federal money instead--a proposal that was summarily rejected by the Republican leadership in the legislature.
And when push came to shove to fight the stimulus, Palin was nowhere to be seen. The Alaska legislature held 20 public hearings on the recovery bill and discovered that the strings Palin and her economic advisers claimed were attached to the funding were nonexistent. There were no "unfunded mandates."
Palin also bailed on a scheduled meeting with state lawmakers, and then blamed them for the cancellation, leading Gary Stevens, the state's Republican Senate President, to essentially call Palin a liar. He vehemently characterized Palin's account of events surrounding the cancellation as "absolutely false." Indeed he was so emphatic about it that he used the phrase "absolutely false" twice.
In the end, Palin and her administration exerted zero influence during the legislative debates on the stimulus, and when the final vote came to endorse acceptance (it was nearly unanimous), Palin had hightailed it for Indiana, preaching right-to-life homilies to those already converted. Exerting political leadership is clearly not her forte.
Then she went into flip-flop mode and rather strikingly resembled a freshly-caught salmon on the deck of an Alaskan trawler. "I can't predict how much or what funds legislators might add to my request, and we haven't heard all the public testimony yet," Palin backtracked. "To say now what might happen with an unknown bill would be premature."
Palin has continued to slide down the slippery slope of hypocrisy. Her last bastion of opposition to the stimulus package is $28.6 million in State Energy Program funding. Palin claims that "Alaska's vast expanse and differing conditions are not conducive to a federally mandated, universal energy code" and that "one size does not fit all."
It's yet another Palin twist of the truth.
This past week, two state senators--Anchorage Republican Lesil McGuire and Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski--have formally confronted Palin on her position. So has freshman U.S. Senator Mark Begich (the former Democratic mayor of Anchorage) and a host of other community activists from all across the political spectrum.
Several have pointed out that Palin has exaggerated and distorted the federal requirements attached to the energy funding, noting that virtually all Alaska municipal codes already meet federal guidelines and that rural communities with populations of less than 2,500 are exempt. Wielechowski and McGuire asserted in a letter to Palin that "Alaska can meet the requirements for receipt of $28.6 million in State Energy Program stimulus funds through adoption of local energy standards, rather than a statewide energy code." All 49 other states have accepted the funds.
So much for Palin's argument of "one size" needing to fit all. It's yet another of her lies to nowhere.
As of this weekend, Palin has yet to announce how she intends to play out her hand. Either way she'll be a loser. If she sticks to her guns and declines the energy stimulus, it will unleash an avalanche of anger throughout the state that will make her bid for re-election as governor next year all the more problematic. If she buckles, it will be another case of a Palin flip-flop--this time saying "no thanks, but thanks" to federal funding.
Award-winning investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn is at work on a book about Sarah Palin and her role in American politics, to be published by Macmillan/St. Martin's in 2010.