Many people in the "Lower 48" know Alaska for its overwhelming beauty, abundant resources and extreme climate. However, up until last week most people have never heard of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
So, having lived there for eight years, I will try to explain - first about being the chief executive of Alaska, and then about Gov. Palin.
While people know about Alaska, few really know Alaska. Going on a cruise or watching "Ice Road Truckers" on the History Channel don't count. Alaskans themselves say you have to spend at least two winters there before you can even consider telling someone you are from there.
Alaska is like a country unto itself - actually, much larger. When I lived there we had four time zones, and the zone I was in was ahead of other parts of the state. One had to plan carefully. One time I was sent on a mission to inspect a huge mine in northwest Alaska. To get there I had to fly to Anchorage, spend the night, then take a "regular" plane; then land in Nome and take a smaller plane; and then switch to a helicopter to finish the journey.
While Alaska doesn't have a large population, few states can match it regarding its administrative complexity and national impact. The chief executive of the state has to negotiate with Pacific Rim and circumpolar nations on logging and fisheries; parley with multi-national oil and mining companies to ensure monetary and environmental compliance; and work with a diverse population made up of a mix of Native Americans, Filipinos, Russian Orthodox, African-Americans and "WASPs."
The governor of Alaska has to have the talent and expertise to deal with an independent, resourceful people to make them all work together for the good of the state and the U.S. With massive amounts of oil money flowing, the governor has to confront legislators and lobbyists to ensure this largess is shared with the people and put away for future generations after the oil is gone.
I worked for two governors in Alaska. My wife worked for the Alaska Legislature, and we often compared notes on politics and personalities discussing what made an effective public servant in "The Great Land." Although I don't know Palin, from my discussions with Alaskan friends and personal research, I have concluded she is a capable executive qualified to step into national affairs.
To check to see if my research was valid, I decided to ask the opinion of two longtime friends - both politically astute people I trust. One was the executive assistant to a Republican Alaskan governor, and the other was a Democratic Alaskan governor.
The executive assistant is now a lobbyist. He says that Gov. Palin hates lobbyists - not a bad thing in my opinion. Further, because she has strong principles, she has an aversion to deal-making. This attitude, my friend says, is unpopular with the "good ol' boys" in the Alaska Legislature - again, not an awful dilemma.
Because of space limitations I only include excerpts of what the former governor said:
"I met Sarah Palin for the first time earlier this year. She was exactly as I had imagined: controlled, focused, yet informal and engaging She ran in 2006 against the old boys' who had controlled the AK R[epublican] party forever, and against the corruption only insiders knew about She has governed with great skill and subtlety, polling between 65 and 92 percent - and that's not a typo...
"She probably knows more about energy, especially as it relates to oil and gas, than any governor in the US She is pro-drilling, but she is demonstrably not a pawn for big oil.' She may be a conservative' as defined by the media rabble, but that turns out to mean she goes to church regularly, has an active and robust family life, and is a crack shot with a .30-06. Isn't that what we all used to do, not so long ago?
"She has been a great governor, and she arrived just in time as Alaska's political culture was drowning in corruption and incompetence They couldn't have picked a better person for that role for the VP slot. Unless there is something hiding in the bushes, she looks like a legend in the making."
This last assessment comes from a man who dislikes what the Bush Administration has done for the last seven-plus years and is an ardent Barack Obama supporter - so there really must be something "there, there" with Sarah Palin. I couldn't have said it better.
(Chris Noah, Ph.D., was deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and executive director of the Alaska Council on Science and Technology, He now works at Savannah River Site.)
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