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Trailblazer: An Intimate Biography of Sarah Palin

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Lorenzo Benet
Author and Assistant Editor, People Magazine
Wednesday, February 18, 2009; 1:00 PM

Lorenzo Benet, author of Trailblazer: An Intimate Biography of Sarah Palin and assistant editor at People magazine, will be online Wednesday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his book, a revealing personal look at the controversial vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska, her family relationships and home life, her daughter Bristol and her teen pregnancy and her seemingly overnight climb up the political ladder to be John McCain's running mate in last year's election.

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A transcript follows.

In the course of preparing the book, Benet received the cooperation of Palin's parents, Chuck and Sally Heath; the governor's older sister, Heather Bruce; as well as in-laws, political allies and rivals.

Related Stories: Back Home in Alaska, Palin Finds Cold Comfort (Post, Feb. 18) and Palin Energizes Our Readers (dot.comments, Feb. 18).

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Lorenzo Benet: Glad to be here to talk about Sarah Palin and Trailblazer. I look forward to answering all your questions.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: When Sarah Palin was first chosen to be John McCain's running mate, some of the initial stories mentioned how she had admitted using marijuana. This overall is not a big deal in politics, except I noticed that some of the "religious right" seemed to then pull their punches about Obama's admitted youthful drug use in his autobiography. I don't believe past drug use was much raised as a concern from either side, except in the small blogosphere world. I am not wondering, though: where did the reports that Sarah Palin used marijuana originate, were they true, and is this a sign that most of the public is no longer as concerned about youthful indiscretions and more about current qualifications?

Lorenzo Benet: Palin admitted to using marijuana in the 1980s when she ran for governor in 2006 but it's my understanding it was a one-time thing. I do think youthful indiscretions are becoming less of an issue so long as they aren't excessive.

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Washington, D.C.: Religion -- we heard during the campaign about Palin's connection with the Wassila Assemby of God church...what are her religious beliefs, how active is she in her church and how do those religious beliefs influence her public policies?

Lorenzo Benet: Gov. Palin no longer belongs to the Assembly of God Church. I believe she left the church in 2002. She now belongs to Wasilla Bible Church, which in my opinion is less strident than Assemblies of God. She is a Christian.

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Arlington, Va.: I wonder how distracted Palin was during the campaign by the fact that her children seemed to accompany her all the time. I read (obviously rumors) that the McCain campaign found it hard to get her to focus after hours because her family and specifically, her children, were always with her. In contrast, the Obama girls seemed to be in school during the week and only joined their parents at times.

Lorenzo Benet: During the campaign, the children were back and forth and I reveal in Trailblazer there was a nanny back in Wasilla to help out with childcare there. Todd also joined her on the road and you can bet he helped out. Palin's youngest children do attend public schools in Wasilla.

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Anonymous: Does your bio document a "rags to riches" story or a "homecoming queen to governor" story?

Completely leaving aside party affiliations can you tell us one non-political insight from your bio?

Lorenzo Benet: It's not rags to riches - Sarah's family was never in rags - her dad was a school teacher and they lived frugally. It is more the ladder - in fact I write that Sarah's participation in beauty pageants gave her a boost of confidence that served her well down the road. Her sports career in high school also provided a few life lessons and enabled her to forge an everlasting bond with her father, a key figure in her life. That's one non-political insight for you. Thanks for the question.

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Bellevue, Neb.: A lot of the recent media focus on Bristol Palin seems to erroneously state that Gov. Palin is in favor of abstinence-only sex education. Why do you think there is so little mention of the fact that she is a member of Feminists for Life and supports contraception education?

Lorenzo Benet: Excellent point and I discuss this in the book. Gov. Palin does support contraception because she's a pragmatist. She just feels abstinence is the preferred method.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Is there proof that she gave birth to Trigg?

Lorenzo Benet: I will bet Sarah's name is listed on his birth certificate as the mother. That said, for Sarah Palin to have pulled off what you suggest in your question would have taken a massive conspiracy that would relatives, hospital officials, etc. It also would finish her politically, so I'm 100 percent sure Trig is hers.

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Washington, D.C.: Did she really get on a plane in Texas and fly to Alaska after her water broke when she was pregnant with Trig? It seems to me that if this is true, it was incredibly reckless behavior, especially with what she knew would be a high-risk delivery.

Lorenzo Benet: Many doctors would agree with you and I quote one in Trailblazer who goes into detail about the risks that the governor was taking by making that decision, which, by the way, she chose to undertake after getting clearance from her own doctor.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: What were Governor Palin's assocations with the Alaska First Party? During what time period did she attend its meetings and when did she speak at their meetings? Did she ever renounce their intentions to separate from the Union before she ran for vice president?

Lorenzo Benet: Gov. Palin was never a member of the party, however Todd was for a few years though in the book I quote sources saying he wasn't very active.

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Washington, DC: The Post article I read today paints a picture not of a take-charge, energetic governor but one who is feeling a little bit sorry for herself and licking her wounds. I don't see how she can generate much momentum by constantly portraying herself as a victim.

Also, no one really cares about her kids. Is she using them as props to stir up controversy and thereby publicity?

Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Back Home in Alaska, Palin Finds Cold Comfort (Post, Feb. 18)

Lorenzo Benet: I don't think she used Bristol's interview with Fox to stir up controversy, if that's what you mean. I met bristol when I wrote about the Palins for People magazine last year and my impression of bristol was that she is an independent thinker who can stand on her own two feet and that Gov. Palin respects that attitude.

My only comment about the press is that I feel Gov. Palin has become a little more selective and guarded around media since before she got involved in the presidential campaign.

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Papillion, Neb.: Is there still lingering resentment in the Alaska GOP establishment that she defeated Frank Murkowski, their preferred candidate?

Lorenzo Benet: Her relations with the Alaska GOP got off to a rocky start - don't forget that one of the first things she did as governor was work with Democrats to increase the oil profits tax, and in Alaska, that's big since oil taxes fund the bulk of the state's budget. I think they came back to her when she joined McCain on the GOP ticket. But it seems to be an ongoing balancing act with both parties.

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Anchoorage, Alaska: Lorenzo,

The Governor has criticized your book but has openly admitted to not reading it. I have read your book and it really is a great book and isn't negative on her. In your opinion do you think the governor is making the same mistake she made with Katie Couric? How can you comment on a book you haven't read?

Lorenzo Benet: I hope Gov. Palin and her aides all read Trailblazer -- in fact -- I understand the publisher is sending copies of the book to her Alaska offices. Once they have read the book, I think they will see it for the positive and uplifting book that it is chronicling her small town roots and her rise to power.

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Richland, Mo.: Why did Governor Palin choose to release a letter from her doctor rather than her actual medical record? and in that letter the doctor stated that Trigg was born healthy, yet now you say in your book he had a heart abnormality?

Lorenzo Benet: I don't want to comment on the letter since I don't have it in front of me but babies with Down syndrome are rarely born healthy and face years of therapy to build their intellectual and physical skills. Gov. Palin has discussed Trig in the press and indicated he is undergoing therapy of this sort and growing stronger. They also are monitoring his heart and overall health.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I had heard during the campaign that many of her high school friends were chosen by her to be to her administration instead of selection the most qualified. Can you comment?

Lorenzo Benet: She did appoint a few high school friends for administrative posts but I don't think it was unusual. Political patronage is alive and well everywhere.

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Reston, Va.: What are Gov. Palin's banner issues? That is, what issues is she personally passionate about, vs. issues she may support simply because she is in agreement with the larger Republican party.

Lorenzo Benet: I believe her key issue is energy independence and getting that Alaska gas pipeline built. She feels it will benefit her state and the country.

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P.G. County: Governor Palin rocks. I don't mean to sound juvenile, but this lady is an inspiration and I'm a Demcrat! She's the first pro-life person who's not a hypocrite. She practices what she preaches and goes ahead and has her baby. She's a person I feel I could go and have a beer with. I don't feel that way with Hillary Clinton and Pelosi -- I have nothing in common with them. That said, do you think Palin can attract more every-day women like me to the Repubican Party.

Lorenzo Benet: John McCain chose her in part because he felt she could draw voters left behind by Hillary Clinton and it will be interesting to see if she can build on her female following in the future, whatever she decides to do.

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Anonymous: I have read your book, and I find it basically shallow. You are not giving any more insight than that was given previously by the main-stream media during her running for vice president.

Lorenzo Benet: It's not meant to be the definitive political book about Palin and her run for the vice presidency -- my book is about what she did to become a player in both Alaska and national politics. The book provides her path to success and the bumps she experienced along the way, both personal and professional. I interviewed supporters and critics and family members and I also had a chance to interview her myself when I wrote about her for People magazine. My goal was to deliver a book about the whole Sarah Palin, not just her political side.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Given that Alaska's economy is dependent in large measure on oil, how has Palin's popularity as governor been affected by the recent significant drop in oil prices per barrel? How much money are the state and its citizens (who receive state checks based on oil income) losing as a result?

Lorenzo Benet: She still has excellent popularity ratings -- 60 percent -- but they aren't what they were when she came into office two years ago. I don't know what the oil stipends will be in 2009 but last year residents collected a total of around $3200. Common sense tells you the stipend will be lower, for now.

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Trig conspiracists: Downs Syndrome has long been a known risk when the mother is in her 40s. It is very unusual for a teenager to have a baby with Downs. So why do these people even speculate that Palin faked her pregnancy? FYI -- we conservative Christians are well aware that children go their own ways, so it would have been a huge waste of effort, if it did happen.

Lorenzo Benet: Great point. It's probably the best piece of evidence that Gov. Palin gave birth to Trig.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Gov. Palin has a 'silent majority' of supporters nation-wide, in your opinion will she run for president in 2012 or 2016?

Lorenzo Benet: Gov. Palin hasn't said whether she will run but I personally feel she may

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New York, N.Y.: Your book is a "revealing personal look" at Sarah Palin and her family. Have you ever spoken with Governor Palin and/or her family. If not, would you say that your book relies on second-hand knowledge, hearsay, innuendo...?

Lorenzo Benet: I did speak to Palin and Todd for my story that ran in People magazine in 2008 and portions of that interview and my insights are in the book. For the book, I interviewed her sister, her parents, in-laws, friends, political allies and rivals. I give a well-rounded and balanced account, thanks in large part to her family and supporters.

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Rockville, Md.: Lorenzo:

Hi! This is Joyce Frieden -- I worked with you at the Michigan Daily. I was wondering how you decided on Sarah Palin as a subject for a book.

Lorenzo Benet: Hi Joyce! I covered her for People magazine and learned she had a fascinating and untold story.

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Chantilly, Va.: It seems to me that she's blaming Katie Couric for making her look bad, but how hard is it to answer a simple question -- "What papers do you read?" She seemed to regard the question as insulting or patronizing, and never did answer it. She's a smart lady, and I don't understand how she could be so clueless about her own role in the defeat. Do you have any idea why she would continue to be so blind?

Lorenzo Benet: If there are questions she would like to do over, I think that's one of them.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do you think she misses the national stage?

Lorenzo Benet: I think right now she wants to concentrate on where the bread is buttered -- Alaska.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Did Lisa Murkowski endorse Palin for Vice President and did she campaign at all for the McCain-Palin ticket?

Lorenzo Benet: Murkowski, a fellow Republican, was a supporter.

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London, U.K.: I was shocked to read that she didn't reveal her last pregnancy even to her family until a few weeks before the baby was born. Do you know if that was because she was considering adoption, and so didn't want her family to become attached to another sibling? (I haven't heard anything to that effect, but that is the only reason I can think of for not letting the rest of the family know. They, too, were going to have a huge adjustment to make.) And, relatedly, how didn't her family notice?

Lorenzo Benet: Sarah Palin was keeping Trig. She wrote a letter 11 days before he was born that I quote in the book about Trig's larger purpose in life and with the Palin family, so she was keeping him.

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Mason City, Ill.: Two of Palin's children did not finish high school. Her son-in-law also dropped out. Her school-age children missed a lot of school during the presidential campaign. What does that reveal about her view of education? And if she cannot manage such important family concerns what does this reveal about her capacity to govern?

Lorenzo Benet: Track did finish high school and Bristol is on her way to finishing high school. Her father was a school teacher and Sarah was an honors student in high school, so I believe she values education.

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Baltimore, Md.: Can you shed any light on Palin's college education? I believe she attended four or five schools. But there is a lot of mystery surrounding those years. In doing your research did you find it strange that very little is known about the time she spent in college?

Lorenzo Benet: She went to five schools but she also had to pay for her own education, so that could account for some of the breaks so she could work and save money. Part of the reason she did beauty pageants was to earn college money. She earned a degree from the University of Idaho.

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Dallas, Tex.: Hello, What's the status of Palin's campaign clothes?

Lorenzo Benet: I'm still waiting for an answer.

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Bethesda, Md.: Sarah Palin seems to be a completely self-made politician, i.e., she didn't seem to have any influential men in her life such as a politically powerful father or husband. Hillary Clinton has a powerful husband; Ms. Pelosi had a powerful political father. Ms. Palin has neither. Would you say she's the consummate feminist who has it all and got it all - all by herself?

Lorenzo Benet: I disagree. In the book, I write a lot about her father, the most influential man in her life, in my humble opinion. She also initially bonded with some members of city council and then as her career took off, Alaska's Republican party threw their weight behind her. As I explain in the book, she also feels her choice of politics was a religious calling of sorts. Still, you're right that there was no paramount political figure in her life growing up. She is very self-motivated.

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Lorenzo Benet: Thank you all for your questions. I had a terrific time.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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