In e-mails, an ambitious, protective Palin

When then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin learned that a state-run creamery business was about to be closed down, she launched an aggressive plan: fire the entire agricultural board, secure $600,000 in taxpayer funds and rescue the plant.

“Hell no will MatMaid close in a couple of weeks,” she wrote to aides in an e-mail on June 8, 2007. “Not on our watch will this happen.”

But the governor, just six months on the job, quickly learned the limits of her powers. The Matanuska Maid creamery ended up closing anyway, unable to recover from massive financial losses.

Palin’s efforts to save the business are outlined in a cache of more than 13,000 e-mails released Friday from her abbreviated tenure as Alaska’s governor, including much, though not all, of the electronic communications that Palin and her aides exchanged during her first two years in office.

The e-mails provide a revealing look at an ambitious rookie politician finding her way in the corridors of power, from small-town mayor turned governor to the surprise pick as running mate to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). They also provide hints of the kind of chief executive that Palin might become if she were to choose to make a run for the White House and were able to secure her party’s nomination and defeat President Obama.

The messages underscore Palin’s role as a sincere budget-cutter and an opponent of pork-barrel spending, an issue with particular resonance nationally. She appears eager to do battle with her political opponents, while remaining fiercely protective of those loyal to her. She was also willing to take actions, such as the creamery bailout, that may have made sense for Alaska but might raise hackles among fellow conservatives across the country.

The documents also illustrate a number of downsides to Palin as a potential Republican candidate: her preoccupation with negative media coverage from even the smallest of sources; her complaints about the job and the outside world’s lack of appreciation of her accomplishments; and an obsessive focus on a handful of gadflies that she seems unable to let go of.

“This is someone who has a good sense of everyday life, and that’s what’s good about being a governor of a small state. You are in touch with the rhythms of everyday life, and if you are looking at a candidate who is able to relate, that is a good reference point,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist and consultant.

“The flip side of it is the enormous sensitivity to how she is being portrayed and that would only be magnified with a national campaign,” Lehane said. “She would likely be anti-press and avoid interacting with objective, mainstream outlets.”

After taking office in December 2006, Palin at first appears hesitant in her approach to the myriad and complex issues that face any governor, hunting around for basic information about state policies and seeking detailed advice from aides, according to the e-mails. She showers praise on her subordinates and is thrilled after a succession of early political victories.

Palin spokesman Tim Crawford said Friday that the e-mails show Palin “hard at work” as the “CEO of her state.” He did not respond to a request for additional comment Saturday.

But after a year in office, which included the disappointing end to the Matanuska creamery episode, signs of frustration from Palin seem to increase, along with complaints about critics and the nature of the governor’s job.

One regular target of Palin’s ire is Andrew Halcro, her former gubernatorial opponent, who raised questions about her use of state resources for family matters and her alleged attempts to have her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper.

“Halcro is a liar,” Palin wrote in one e-mail in February 2008, when she instructed staffers to push back on erroneous assertions by Halcro. “The mainstream media going to him as a credible source is pathetic.”

Walt C. Monegan, who was fired as public safety commissioner in connection with the trooper controversy, said Saturday that the e-mails show how Palin was “obsessed” with petty issues. “What you’re getting is a glimpse of somebody who is much more focused on themselves than the job they’re supposed to be doing,” he said.

Another regular target was former state senator Lyda Green, a fellow Republican from Wasilla who was the subject of dozens of scathing e-mails. Green said in an interview Saturday that the animosity appeared to stem from her history as an ally of former governor Frank Murkowski (R), whom Palin despised.

“If you did not agree with Sarah, if you questioned Sarah, then you were just on the outs. You could never go back. There was no purgatory, no limbo,” Green said, adding that Palin showed little interest in the details of policies or legislation.

“When you’re busy going after people, you’re not thinking about concepts, great ideas and policies,” she said. “That’s not Sarah Palin.”

The e-mails that were released by state officials reveal little about Palin’s approach to policy, focusing instead on the nitty-gritty details of politics, such as board appointments and dealing with her image. While she could run on a partial record of service and bucking party leaders in Alaska, “there is a weak side because she resigned rather quickly,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist.

“She was a governor who was in perpetual motion and really excelled at her regional issues and was enthusiastic and seemed to be genuine and down to earth, but she quickly grew a thicker skin once she was thrust into the national spotlight,” Bonjean said. “The e-mails show her to be a really competitive person, who is not used to losing. She is going to be out there as a force to be reckoned with, whether she runs or not, and try to see to it that Obama loses.”

But Rich Galen, a Republican consultant and former aide to Newt Gingrich, said the e-mails add very little to what the public already knows about the former Alaska governor.

“I will be shocked when we get through the 24,000 pages if there is any nugget that adds anything other than proof to what people already know about her, which is that she’s petty and vindictive against people she dislikes and charming to people she does like,” Galen said, adding that, “she won’t be a candidate.”

Staff writers Robert O’Harrow Jr. in Juneau, Alaska, and R. Jeffrey Smith in Washington contributed to this report.

Deputy editor, National politics
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