A glimpse of Palin in cache of e-mails

June 10, 2011

A cache of e-mails released Friday add vivid new color and fresh details to the complicated public portrait of Sarah Palin, who displayed many of the same strengths, and shortcomings, as Alaska governor that she would later bring to the national political stage.

Often blunt and frequently impatient, Palin derided “old school” politicians and bureaucrats and acted as a champion of populist interests on issues ranging from energy policy to women’s rights, the e-mails show. Her relations with fellow politicians, including many Republicans, were often strained, and she relied heavily on her husband, Todd, and a close-knit group of aides to help cope with crises and shape policies.

Palin felt passionately about issues of importance to her state, the documents show, and she waged battle with foes large and small. That included detractors on obscure government commissions as well as multinational conglomerates seeking access to Alaska’s vast oil and gas reserves. She twice refers to one major oil executive with a derogatory nickname and complains that phone calls with him did not go well.

Palin also devoted significant attention to the portrayal of her and her administration in the press, regularly decrying “untruths” in media reports and working feverishly to push back on negative assertions. Targets of her ire ranged from mainstream newspapers to commenters on local blogs.

In one e-mail in February 2007, Palin wrote that she “will try to carve out time in the day to more fully scan news clippings and try to catch some of the talk shows via internet, but so far I haven’t even found an extra minute to be able to tune into the shows unless I’m . . . driving in my car.” She told staffers: “i need folks to really help ramp up accurate counter comments to the misinformation that’s being spread out there.”

The e-mails — some 24,000 pages total — were released in response to public-information requests from media organizations, who first began asking for the records during Palin’s run as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008. More than two years later, Palin has become a fixture in the conservative political firmament, a reality-TV celebrity and a barbed critic of President Obama who may, or may not, be pondering a run for the White House.

The promise of potential news about Palin drew a deluge of reporters and other media employees to Alaska’s picturesque, isolated capital of Juneau, where state officials Friday prepared six sealed boxes of printed messages for each news organization that paid for the documents. Reporters fought for elevators in a mad rush out of the building to begin converting the documents into electronic form for perusal and publication.

Palin, a broadly polarizing figure, has remained a magnet for attention since Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made her his surprise pick for vice president in August 2008. The records released Friday spanned the dates from her start as Alaska governor in December 2006 to September 2008, after her first month as a national candidate.

Palin has been coy about her plans for 2012, hinting at a possible presidential run while refusing to take any of the steps that most any other White House candidate would take by this point in an election cycle.

Last week, Palin and her family concluded a hectic bus trip visiting tourist sites from Washington to Boston, with squads of baffled reporters trailing behind. Next month, a sympathetic film producer is also releasing a new movie, “The Undefeated,” about Palin’s political career.

The new documents, totaling more than 13,000 e-mails, bring alive the cozy and almost quaint nature of politics in a state as distant and sparsely populated as Alaska. Palin took major policy advice from confidants including her husband, who polled friends on wolf-hunting issues, and her brother, whose concern about state contracts is passed on to a gubernatorial aide. The governor also remained keenly interested in the goings-on in her tiny hometown of Wasilla and had unkind things to say about the mayor who succeeded her.

But Palin also grappled with politics on a national scale, meeting with fellow governors and other leaders in Washington and clashing with global energy firms over plans for a natural-gas pipeline and a hike in oil taxes.

“The thousands upon thousands of emails released today show a very engaged Governor Sarah Palin being the CEO of her state,” said Tim Crawford, treasurer of SarahPAC, Palin’s federal political action committee, in a statement. “The emails detail a Governor hard at work. Everyone should read them.”

The documents contain at least a few references to the man who would later become a target of criticism. In February 2007, an aide recommended that Palin meet with a top adviser for “some guy named Barack Obama” when she was in Washington for a conference. “I’m game to meet him,” Palin replied. The meeting never happened, Obama advisers said Friday.

Later, in August 2008, just before McCain picked her as his vice presidential candidate, Palin praised Obama for a “great speech” on energy policies, saying it included ideas that he “stole” from Alaska.

“Pretty cool,” she wrote to an aide, adding: “Wrong candidate.”

Palin, who since coined the phrase “Mama Grizzlies” to warmly describe female conservatives, wrote an impassioned e-mail to an aide in March 2008 about criticism of female politicians: “ ‘they’ said the same thing throughout my career — ‘too young’, ‘pregnant’, ‘kids’ . . . ‘She won’t be able to do it’ . . . This coming from good ol’ boys who don’t like change . . . And so far along in my career we’ve proved them wrong at each turn.”

Palin grappled frequently with the minutiae of expense reports and bristled at rules forbidding state payment for travel for her children. She complained that the day her son, Trig, was born in 2008 should have been counted as a workday because she did some state business from the hospital. “April 18, the day he was born, I signed a bill into law and conducted a few State actions (and that should be recorded for the record),” she wrote.

The former governor’s reliance on her husband for counsel while governing the state is well known; Todd Palin played a key role in helping organize the controversial ouster of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in September 2008, for example.

In a March 2008 e-mail, Sarah Palin makes clear that Todd also weighed in on how to deal with Alaska’s burgeoning wolf population, a topic of debate at the time among officials and environmental experts. The governor told her fish and game commissioner in blunt terms that she opposed using state helicopters to hunt wolves and preferred paying private hunters.

Her source of information? “Todd interviewed buddies who live out there,” she wrote. “Some confirmation that state intervention isn’t first choice w/the locals.”

O’Harrow reported from Juneau, Alaska. Staff writers Rachel Weiner in Juneau and Aaron Blake, David A. Fahrenthold, T.W. Farnam, Nia-Malika Henderson, Carol Leonnig, R. Jeffrey Smith and Sandhya Somashekhar and news researchers Alice Crites and Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

Deputy editor, National politics
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