Media outlets have shown Americans in 49 states a Sarah Palin that her fellow Alaskans would hardly recognize. And reality-adjusting her image in the run-up to 2012 could impact more declared (and potential) candidates than just the 2008 vice presidential nominee.
The Palin most reporters have portrayed is almost completely aligned politically with Representative Michele Bachmann, who declared her candidacy for the GOP’s 2012 nomination last month. But Alaskans knew a Governor Palin who spread the wealth and raised taxes on big oil companies.
She swept into office on a wave of public unhappiness over the old-boy network Gov. Frank Murkowski inhabited, and earned widespread support with a tacit campaign promise of making Alaska a more egalitarian state.
The real Palin beat Murkowski in an incredible 2006 victory — incredible because it was completely unexpected. Murkowski had spent the previous 25 years as either a U.S. senator or Alaska’s governor. He served alongside the legendary Sen. Ted Stevens. Murkowski was not initially seen as a vulnerable incumbent, and it took Palin months to raise her first $100,000 as a gubernatorial candidate.
But she campaigned as someone who wanted to quite literally spread the wealth around, though she never used those exact words. Palin argued that the Murkowski administration had been too easygoing with big oil companies, and criticized her rival for negotiating a complete overhaul of the state’s tax on oil producers, in private, with Exxon-Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips.
Palin also publicized the connection between these closed-door negotiations and those three oil companies receiving what was, in her mind, an exclusive state-subsidized deal to build a natural gas pipeline that would move stranded gas from the oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope to market. Fortune magazine theorized that this deal might be worth $1 billion in gross revenues per year to each of the big three producers, based on 2007 prices.
After winning Alaska’s 2006 gubernatorial election, Palin proposed a new oil-producer tax. Its passage by the legislature in 2007 replaced much of the Murkowski administration’s previous overhaul. The new law increased taxes on oil companies operating in Alaska and included a progressive structure that increased tax rates as oil prices rose.
If you’ve never imagined Sarah Palin as a corporate-taxing thorn in Big Oil’s side, it’s not your fault: National media outlets have buried these facts.
In 2008 Palin also added a one-time bonus payout — a whopping $1,200 per citizen — to the “Permanent Fund Dividend” oil-related handout, an entitlement Alaskans receive every year just for being Alaskans. The governor and the legislature justified this extra largesse as a helping hand to Alaskans who were paying substantially for energy, but that argument made no sense.
This special dividend was paid on top of was what already a record Permanent Fund Dividend. Including Palin’s bonus, every Alaskan received $3,269.00 that year from the state government.
As governor of Alaska and as Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential nominee in 2008, Sarah Palin was fond of talking about reducing government waste. “I told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks, on that bridge to nowhere,'” she colorfully quipped on the campaign trail.
True enough, Palin did reject a federal earmark for the construction of Ketchikan’s Gravina Island Bridge. But those federal dollars still came to Alaska: They were used for other transportation projects instead. It’s rare that commentators trashing her as an unreasonable conservative ever mention this inconvenient detail.
Today it’s hard to find a national political broadcast that forecasts both Palin and Bachmann in the same neck-and-neck GOP presidential field. The typical narrative is that if Bachman is in, Palin must be out. Pundits and political handicappers seem to believe almost universally that the two women’s views are too similar to avoid splitting their votes.
But if Palin’s time as Alaska’s governor were accurately chronicled, she just might be seen as — get this — a moderate.
And how would that shake up the GOP field? We’ll never know unless talking heads in New York and Washington, D.C. stop rewriting Alaska’s political history.
Kells Hetherington is The Daily Caller’s deputy editor. He lived in Alaska between 2006 and 2011.