Page 2 of 3   <       >

A Tenacious Reformer's Swift Rise

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain selects Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Palin, originally from Idaho, was elected the first female governor of Alaska in 2006 after defeating incumbent Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary and former Gov. Tony Knowles in the general election.

Her father was a science teacher and her mother became a school secretary. The family would go on camping trips to hunt moose, bear and sometimes wild sheep, according to Adele Morgan, a friend since childhood. Palin is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and even today, as governor, she fishes for salmon in Bristol Bay.

The third of four children, Palin was shaped by her father's love of sports and her mother's Christian faith, according to Kaylene Johnson, a journalist whose biography of the governor was published this year. Palin's father was her track coach, and she played on the softball team, but her real passion was basketball. "She doesn't like sitting on the sidelines," Johnson said.

Her mother, meanwhile, made sure that Sundays were for church.

Palin entered the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant and won, playing the flute for her talent. She went on to compete for Miss Alaska and was a runner up.

She began to date Todd Palin, a part Yup'ik Eskimo who grew up in the bush of a native Alaskan village, when he transferred to Wasilla's high school to play basketball. She went off to college, studying first in Hawaii before transferring to the University of Idaho, where she majored in journalism with a minor in political science.

Not long after she returned to Wasilla, she and Todd Palin eloped at the local courthouse -- 20 years ago yesterday -- recruiting two strangers from across the street to serve as witnesses.

A commercial fisherman and champion snowmobile racer, Todd Palin has worked as an oilfield worker for BP on Alaska's North Slope. He now works for a union.

Their first child, Track, was born in 1989. Their youngest, Trig, was born just four months ago; consistent with her opposition to abortion, she continued the pregnancy after learning early on that her baby had Down syndrome.

As a child, Palin showed little political consciousness, Johnson said, but she devoured newspapers and news magazines from an uncommonly early age.

She worked as a television sportscaster and weather reporter and was 28 when she set her sights on the Wasilla City Council. A social conservative in tune with the town, Palin easily won a seat, and the issues tended to revolve around garbage collection and the local police force. Along the way, she made an enemy of her political patron. She then ousted the three-term incumbent Republican mayor, winning by 211 votes, according to her biography.

In 2002, Palin narrowly lost a bid for lieutenant governor, running as a supporter of then-Gov. Frank Murkowski. Her reward was an appointment to the powerful Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the state's energy industries. Within months of assuming the $115,000-a-year job, Palin castigated her fellow commissioner, Randy Ruedrich, then the chairman of the state Republican Party, saying he was conducting political business on state time. She sparked an investigation that led to his resignation and a $12,000 fine.

"Randy Reudrich served as the very powerful, king-making, top-dog chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska," Moore said. "This was what forged her reputation."

<       2        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company