She's Nice -- but Not Ready

Sarah Palin electrified the crowd at the Xcel Center on Wednesday night by describing herself as a "hockey mom" and delivering sharp comments to her critics and opponents. Watch Full SpeechVideo Editor: Jonathan Forsythe/
By Mike Doogan
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ANCHORAGE -- Most Alaskans like Sarah Palin. I know I do. Both as a politician and a person, there's a lot to like.

Despite the fact that we're from different parties, for the 20 months that we've both been in office we've been allies on oil and gas issues, which are important in a state where 85 percent of the government's general revenue comes from oil production. I've appreciated the way she has not knuckled under to the oil companies as governors before her have.

And when I turned 60 a couple of months ago, Palin served cupcakes at a gathering at the governor's mansion. Nearly flambeed herself holding a big tray of the things so I could blow out the candles. Who wouldn't like that?

But that doesn't mean I think John McCain made a good decision when he picked Palin to be his running mate. I don't. Sarah Palin is simply not qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, especially when that heart beats in the chest of a man who would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term.

If you held Palin's political résumé up to the light, you could see right through it. Mayor of a small town, followed by less than two years as governor of a state with the fourth-smallest population in the country. That's the person who is qualified to take over if the Norns snip McCain's thread? The woman prepared to be commander in chief?

I know, I know. Somewhere a thousand spin doctors are trying to inflate Palin's accomplishments, to make McCain's decision look less like the Hail Mary it so clearly is. (We've already heard them at work.) But before they make her sound like the second coming of Otto von Bismarck, only in high heels, here's an assessment that's a little closer to the truth:

Palin's time as governor has been a mixed bag. She deserves high marks for moving the possibility of a gas pipeline forward. But most of the work on oil taxes was done by the legislature. Ditto with ethics reform. And her role in killing the ballyhooed "Bridge to Nowhere"? Turns out that she was for it before she was against it, and that, well, she kept the money anyway.

Add to this a growing sense that the state government isn't running all that well: commissioners and key staffers jumping or being pushed. The operating budget growing 10 percent a year. Policy problems such as high energy costs being papered over with cash giveaways. The governor and her aides being investigated by the legislature. You can see why it's not clear she's a competent governor of Alaska, let alone qualified to take over the reins of the national government.

Don't get me wrong. Palin brings some pluses to the campaign. She's a woman. She's young. She's from outside the Beltway. The Christian right likes her. She's comfortable on TV -- she has a degree in journalism -- and is adept at connecting with people on a personal level. And she is very, very competitive. When I criticized her plan to hand out free money to Alaskans -- spin that, conservative pundits -- the next time we met she lit into me like I was a pork chop and she was a starving wolf.

Unlike the shrill pundits on cable news, I don't have a crystal ball. I don't know if Palin will turn out to be an asset to the McCain campaign or a liability or, like so many vice presidential candidates before her, a non-factor. I don't know what kind of leader she might be. But I do know that, on all these fronts, she is a big, big risk if her ticket wins and something bad happens to John McCain. And that the risk isn't just McCain's. Or the Republican Party's. It's all of ours now.

And that tells me all I need to know about John McCain's judgment.

The writer is a Democratic member of the Alaska House of Representatives. A former columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, he writes mystery novels.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company