Age: 42 (born in Sand Point Idaho, on Feb. 11, 1964)
Education: Graduated University of Idaho, 1987, journalism.
Business: Worked as sports reporter for two Anchorage television stations; is co-owner with her husband in commercial fishing operation; also owned snowmachine, watercraft, ATV business from 1994-97.
Political Career: Chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 2003-2004; served two terms as Wasilla mayor and two terms on city council.
Family: Husband Todd, four children.
Interview with Sarah Palin
This interview with Republican candidate Sarah Palin took place July 21.
News-Miner: So if you are governor, what would you do about the gas line contract?
Palin: I would make sure that entities had the right to compete to tap our resources and work with the legislators instead of against the legislators but work with them on providing them all the information that they needed to have in order to make good decisions. I think legislators have been put in an unfair and untenable position today in being told that Murkowski's and the producers' (oil companies) gas line is the be all, end all as proposed...
News-Miner: Let's assume the current effort to get a contract signed fails. What's your plan for moving forward on the gas line?
Palin: Well we start working with the producers to make sure that there is an agreement to sell gas for an Alaskan connecting line, whatever route, whatever terminus that is going to be. We're not going to know what the most viable option is there in connecting Alaska with our gas until all the projects are laid out on the table for fair comparisons... [T]he producers, the leaseholders... they have so much power in this, of course, because there has to be the selling agreements from them... to access our gas. So that's going to be the very first part of the negotiations: access to our gas via the leaseholders, and it's not going to be just the producers project being considered, it is going to be back to the drawing board on a couple of the other projects...
[Co]mparing the projects is going to be extremely important, and again that's based on that foundational belief of mine that we should have entities competing for the right to tap our resources.
News-Miner: You're a pretty strong supporter of the Alaska Gasline Port Authority's plan, which is based on liquefied natural gas.
Palin: I'm a strong supporter. Uh-huh.
News-Miner: So could you fairly review the plan that the oil companies have?
Palin: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I've never come out and said it has got to be all LNG or nothing... I've always said that there has to be fair consideration of everything, and I have felt strongly that the LNG project is viable, and it has been kind of a frustrating ride along these months to see that the governor didn't want to consider the LNG line...
News-Miner: What do you think about the tax freeze that the oil companies say they need to have before they can sign an agreement on the gas pipeline?
Palin: I don't like the tax freeze. I think, sure, the oil companies would love to have stability on their books for all these months, but that's not fair to Alaskans, to the owners of the resource. And there will be volatility in the markets. There will be new technology that will affect changes in this whole development decades to come ... I also think it is probably unconstitutional to freeze the taxes today and not allow any Legislature in the future to adjust, and most problematic with (it) as proposed the tax freeze is taking away the voters' rights, the initiative, to ever have a say in whether the taxes should be adjusted.
News-Miner: So what should the Legislature do with the Stranded Gas Development Act amendments that the governor wants them to pass so he can proceed with the gas contract?
Palin: Obviously the Stranded Gas Act needs to be amended if the lawmakers are committed to working within it in some capacity, using it as a tool for future developments because the Stranded Gas Act, I mean it's fundamental that our gas isn't stranded any more, I believe. It's not economically stranded and amendments have to ensure that it's a more workable law now... Retroactively changing this law in order to allow Gov. Murkowski to produce a project to fit legally, I don't support that system because here again I think it was kind of hypocritical then for the other projects that had been proposed to be booted out of the system because they didn't fit within the Stranded Gas Act. So if we're going to open the doors and say, "OK, we've got to change the Stranded Gas Act," to let this fit, OK, then if that's going to be reality, then open the doors then for the other projects to come in and be considered under there fairly.
News-Miner: Let's move on to the gas reserves tax, which is on the November ballot. Do you support that?
Palin: I was just asked that by the Conoco employees. I think I had told you guys that I had been invited by Rep. Croft and Gov. Hickel to join them as a sponsor of that initiative, kind of a headliner there in getting the people to understand why it was so important. I turned down that offer because fundamentally I just, you know, I don't like taxes. I don't like industry disincentives for investment and for development, but I believe the way things are going it is almost as if Gov. Murkowski and the producers are going to drag fiscal conservatives like me kicking and screaming to that ballot box to vote for this thing unless in the next couple of weeks the governor is going to be able to put some teeth in this contract to make sure that there are performance measures that are committed to...
News-Miner: So you don't think the reserves tax is a good idea, which is why you didn't appear with Croft and Hickel. But then you just said you could be driven to vote for it. How can that be?
Palin: Well it is not so much that I don't think it's a good idea... There are plenty of people in the Legislature and out there in the public that will be proponents for taxes. I'm not going to be one of those, sorry. I'm not going to be a headliner to introduce taxes, but on this one again I think Alaskans are feeling that we need to do our own fiduciary duty, our responsibility in saying again if the administration isn't going to keep these producers' feet to the fire, then we're going to have to do it.
News-Miner: What do you think of the argument that voting for the reserves tax will kill the gas pipeline project?
Palin: I don't believe that. I don't believe that at all... (We've) been told for 15 years that a project, a line through Canada to get Alaska's gas to market and a line through Alaska to fuel our homes, our businesses, is economic. Producers would be crazy to leave the billions and billions and billions of dollars of untapped resource up there on the North Slope. I don't believe that. Gov. Murkowski says it is going to add $10 billion up front to the project. .. I don't buy that at all that it's a deal breaker.
News-Miner: About the Healy Clean Coal Project. What would you do to get that power plant going again?
Palin: I think there already have been so many public dollars spent getting it to where it is today, albeit it is stalled. It is not going anywhere. We can't just drop it, forget about it, close up shop, and move on. I think we need to pursue it because of the public investment in it. We need to pursue avenues in order to make this thing work. I have a lot of respect for Golden Valley's administration and for folks there who are chiming in on this, and they are the experts and they are part of a team of experts who know the issue much better than I, and I would listen to them and listen to others around the state who have been very committed to that project for these years. I think there is a lot of internal politics that play into this issue, and that's unfortunate because that is perhaps getting in the way of just seeing the project come to fruition.
News-Miner: What are your thoughts on the size of the state's operating and capital budgets? Some say the operating budget isn't sustainable at its current rate of growth. What sorts of budgets would we see from you?
Palin: It isn't sustainable, not at all... [T]o go through a $1.6 billion surplus as fast we did just kind of blew my mind, especially when we have Republicans in charge, and I'm thinking, wow, whatever happened to the fiscal conservative planks in the Republican platform? I think it was a mistake to blow through it so fast. I think a big chunk of it should have been taken off the table, saved for the future. We always have to remember that what is fueling the state coffers, that surplus, these are nonrenewable resources, and once that gas is gone, it is gone. Once the oil is gone, it is gone, and truly if we are going to look to the future we have to build sustainable budgets and not spend every dime of current oil revenue windfall.
News-Miner: What's your definition of taking money off the table?
Palin: Putting it in the permanent fund, forward funding more of education, more of the constitutionally mandated services that we have to provide, education being one of them.
News-Miner: How is forward funding the same as saving? If you're forward funding for a subsequent fiscal year, then when you get to that fiscal year you essentially have other, new money freed up and available to spend since you have already paid for something in the new budget with money from the earlier year. So is that really saving?
Palin: I think forward funding does result in savings of public moneys... [It] allows our local districts to start planning more prudently, more efficiently for their expenditures. This is going to help local property taxpayers, I'm convinced...
But before that, even more foundational than that, is putting money in the permanent fund and establishing a savings plan for future revenue increases for future obligations that have to be met like PERS and TRS (retirement system), chipping away at that, looking at some of those bond obligations that we have also, maybe paying down some of those—things that we would do in our own personal budgets at home—taking care of deferred maintenance issues.
News-Miner: You used the words fiscal conservative to describe yourself. So would the budgets we would see from you be growing but at a lower pace or would they be cut?
Palin: My goal would not to be growing state government. The way that we can chip away at the recent state government overgrowth... is to trickle down the state's wealth into the local communities through municipal revenue sharing and... let them prioritize for their communities. [T]hat does chip away at state growth because the larger, more growing bureaucracies are not needed. My budgets would not see this level of growth at all, no.
There are some areas where I definitely wouldn't cut, and I wouldn't try to privatize, for instance, prisons. I don't support contracting out our public safety responsibilities in the state. But being a budget hawk and keeping a handle on state government growth will be absolutely a commitment of mine in state government. I did that with the city of Wasilla also, zero based budgeting... Don't come to me and just automatically assume you're going to get an increase in your budget just because 12 months have happened to go by.
News-Miner: Municipal assistance and revenue sharing was one of the things that was eliminated and hasn't been brought back. What would you do about that?
Palin: You know, we afforded the program when oil was $9 a barrel and we are told at $70 a barrel we can't afford it any more. That's a disconnect from those in the administration who have never served in a municipal office perhaps... I would work with the Legislature to reinstate funding for municipal revenue sharing.
[B]ut it has got to be based on, of course, the state's overall health, its economic health. But, yeah, in times of surplus allow the local communities to prioritize for it and I say tie strings if you must. (Say) that these dollars have to be for education, for public safety, the basic necessities that any good mayor would say has to be spent anyway...
This is all secondary, though, to taking the surplus and putting it in the permanent fund and putting it in the CBR (budget reserve).
News-Miner: Let's talk a little bit about the retirement system issue. First off, in context of municipalities or sub governments. You say you would bring back revenue sharing, but would you require that the lower government entities use that to pay their share of the rising retirement costs or would you do something extra to help them with that?
Palin: I wouldn't require municipal governments to use it for anything... Now with state retirement, the pension is a promise. We need to chip away at that debt that we made manifest to the tune of anywhere from between $6 billion and $9 billion is what I hear in the next 20 years. If we don't start chipping away at that shaky pension plan as it is underfunded now...
News-Miner: But would you help the municipalities separately?
Palin: I would want to see the municipalities start preparing for the obligation that they have for their employees. If it is going to be a priority of theirs via municipal revenue sharing, if that is what they want to put their money toward, then more power to the local government.
News-Miner: So you wouldn't give them any additional assistance outside of revenue sharing toward their retirement?
Palin: That depends on what our future economic health is, again, of the state. That is something to be discussed with the lawmakers... [T]hat's a good discussion for the lawmakers.
News-Miner: Staying with the retirement issue for a minute, what would you do about the larger issue of the multibillion dollar shortfall?
Palin: [M]ore of this year's surplus even should have gone to meeting that obligation in creating a fund to generate revenue off it to invest in that fund.
News-Miner: So you'd create an endowment to help pay into the retirement account?
Palin: If that is what it is called. Again, working with PERS and TRS board and those who have dealt with these issues for so long. I still get perplexed as to how we ever got to where we got... [W]hy over the years was it not debated in the public arena so that more voices could be heard on that? The next thing we knew, last year there was a rush job through the legislative session and in special session that we had to create this new Tier 4 employee. And those new employees won't be paying into the system, though we expect it will still be funded somehow without new employees paying into it. I think (Tier 4) probably needs to be revisited to allow some flexibility for employees to have some choices, some options in their retirement.
News-Miner: Was it good that the Legislature shifted the type of retirement system to a 401(k)-style for new employees?
Palin: I believe it was a good idea... I would like to allow some flexibility there and, you know, I find that kind of ironic that lawmakers who are in the plan, they don't propose to change their own retirement plan. They're state employees also.
News-Miner: What do you mean by flexibility, though?
Palin: Allowing them a choice. Do you want defined benefit?... (Or) do you want to be able to take your retirement fund with you and go move to Washington state... Some would say you're opening up a can of worms. I'd like to open it up for discussion where the alternatives can be considered... I don't like the idea of us almost creating disincentives for folks to choose needed public service like law enforcement and education.
News-Miner: One option to help chip away at the retirement system shortfall is to increase the contribution rates from the employer governments and the employees. What's your view on that?
Palin: Well, I think that's what the unions would know going into it also is that there is going to have to be the give and take. There is going to have to be the mutual benefits derived at which means there has got to be a mutual giving on both parts.
News-Miner: So you would like to see perhaps employers and employees contribute more?
Palin: Well that certainly would have to be considered. That is considered all the time, though, when you go into negotiations.
News-Miner: One more municipal question: There has been a big push in the last two or three years for the mandatory creation of boroughs. Would you like to see more mandatory boroughs?
Palin: No, no. I'm opposed, again, to the state mandates that affect individuals because of the backward way of governing. [P]olitical power is supposed to be inherent in the people, and government originates with the people. If the people in an area want to form a borough, more power to them, form that borough and buy a level of government over your head. But I don't support forcing the boroughs. I also don't support forced annexations and have fought against that in my own community.
News-Miner: Do you think, though, in areas of the state where there is an economic base that the economic base should be tapped to pay for education, which the state currently pays for to a greater degree in the unincorporated areas?
Palin: I wouldn't force a borough government over their heads, no. But there are other ways to discuss such a thing and to figure out a way for a more fair contribution, especially when there is zero contribution... But the problem that we get into with legislators proposing such a thing is an issue like that is used to divide Alaskans, unfortunately, and I'm not in this to capitalize on dividing issues.
News-Miner: A question about the longevity bonus. Do you think it was a good decision by the governor to veto that and what would you see doing anything about that?
Palin: It was a poor, misguided decision to lop our seniors off a program that was scheduled to phase out... I think it was a huge mistake, and my understanding is we only have about 13,000 seniors left still eligible in the program. Take those who are needy in that program and who would want to voluntarily sign up for the program. We always hear the excuse it was unfair... but get those needy seniors who were lopped off prematurely, and fund them for the rest of the program. The state can afford that.
News-Miner: It sounds like you would bring it back?
Palin: I would bring it back for those who were still eligible in the program... [P]ick it up from today just for those seniors who were still in it.
News-Miner: An issue of importance in the Interior is predator control. What actions would you take in this area? And do you think the Board of Game is balanced or unbalanced in its makeup?
Palin: I support predator control, even aerial predator control. (I) read a good book on that recently by my cousin's uncle, Jim Reardon, who was with Fish and Game as a biologist and was an editor at Alaska Magazine for years. He wrote a real good book on this about the biology, the scientific basis as to why predator control is so important. I'm a huge supporter of it.
News-Miner: When you say you're for predator control, what does that mean?
Palin: That means, simply put, that we allow moose and caribou populations to grow to fill our freezer and to help rural Alaskans who are reliant on predator control to make sure we're growing more moose and caribou and other animals and we have listened to the board and we've listened to the scientists who say here is how we do it.
News-Miner: How do you feel about the composition of the Board of Game?
Palin: ...I don't have special interests or networks of people that are trying to influence me on getting on a board or getting their people on a board. That's good, because I can commit to not allowing the politics to be on the board but to have a good experienced fair-minded individual Alaskans who have management for abundance as their goal sitting on these boards... I say let's manage for abundance and kind of turn the volume down on some of these squabbles.
News-Miner: Let's talk about subsistence. Your view on that and do you find the current situation acceptable? If not, what would you do about it?
Palin: I support our constitutional wording as it is presently that we have that equality clause that our fish and wildlife resources will be available to all equally. I'm pro-subsistence for all Alaskans, though not based on anything but being an Alaskan. I want people treated fairly and equitably when it comes to accessing our fish and game.
News-Miner: If you support subsistence for all, then you find it acceptable that we have federal management, since that's the consequence of our standoff with the federal government?
Palin: I want state management. I want state control over that resource. I want state control over all of our resources. [I]f there are changes to ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act) that perhaps need to be made, if there are changes in regulations that have to be made, let's make those...
News-Miner: Our congressional delegation says ANILCA is not going to change.
Palin: But I don't support amending our Constitution.
News-Miner: So if ANILCA is not going to change and you support the state Constitution and don't accept federal management, what do you do? Is it a solvable issue?
Palin: I think if Alaskans resolve to resolve the issue, it certainly is. The unfortunate thing with subsistence, though, that seems to be especially (present) around general election time ... it is used as a tool to divide. It's one of those issues that is used to divide urban and rural Alaska and different races even in Alaska, and I think that's unfortunate and that's why I stand strong on our constitutional provision there for equality in terms of access to our resources.
News-Miner: Let's talk about education funding for a bit. It has increased quite a lot under Gov. Murkowski. What plans would you have for education, especially since you say you don't want to grow the overall budget much?
Palin: We've already talked about forward funding and allowing the local districts to more efficiently, effectively budget their local dollars to be combined with state, federal resources to provide good education program. I'm a believer that throwing more money at a project, at a program, isn't necessarily the fix, and I apply to education also. I would certainly prioritize that education dollars to get it into the classrooms, get it into the teachers' hands... versus the top-heavy bureaucratic growth of administration...
News-Miner: Let's explore that a bit more. So if money isn't necessarily at the top of the list, what ideas might you have to improve the system?
Palin: Sometimes (schools) are not able to meet the needs of their students because state government doesn't allow them to. So I would listen to those who are in the field and have these good ideas on how to make programs and services be provided better and more efficiently. I am a strong supporter, though, of public education. I'm also a proponent of competition in education. I think a parent knows best as to how to educate their child and I want an atmosphere in Alaska where a family, if they choose to home school or put their child in a correspondence or a voc-tech-oriented program or you know the charter schools, a private school, more power to them. I want an atmosphere where they feel invited to do what's best for their child. I want more parental control and just a more positive atmosphere to embrace competition in education.
News-Miner: What about the University of Alaska. President Mark Hamilton asked for, and the governor agreed, to increases of 5 percent a year in the university's budget. Talk about that. You just had a physical reaction to that.
Palin: I had a reaction because, again, being a strong proponent of education and of our university system, I want to make sure that it is adequately funded. I think some who hold the purse strings may be a little hesitant to ask for some accountability in some of our public education systems, not just the university but in K-12 education also. I wouldn't be afraid to ask for that accountability to make sure that public dollars are spent wisely and are for the greater good for the state of Alaska.
News-Miner: Do you have reason to think that the university is a little bit loose with its money?
Palin: I just have reason to believe that all of the government programs and projects can be made better by having more accountability. I'm not just picking on the university at all, but my general sense of government is that we can always do things better.
News-Miner: What do you think of therapeutic courts, an alternative type of court, for some drunken-driving offenders? Anchorage and Bethel have them. Would you like to see an expansion of these in other communities?
Palin: Uh-huh. I like it. I like it. I have visited therapeutic courts there in Anchorage and heard a lot of success stories. I certainly don't want to lessen up or loosen up any of the punishment for those crimes like DWIs and some of those, but when we're looking at our corrections system and we see that 98, 99 percent of those who are incarcerated or were in trouble... they're going to be back into society, so we want to make sure that they are prepared be healthy, contributing citizens in the state of Alaska again. And I think there are some successes there in the therapeutic court that can help us get there.
News-Miner: We have one of the fastest growing seniors populations, percentage wise, in the nation. Older people will want places to live that are affordable. They will want services that are short of assisted-living homes. What will you do about that?
Palin: I think there is an obligation on the state's part to help them plan (while) not diminishing at all, though, the individual's responsibility that they have to take for their own retirement planning and future year planning. But I do believe that the state can assist the private sector and the individuals in providing opportunity for these seniors to live in Alaska.
News-Miner: You started talking at the beginning about the need for access to state land. Talk about that and any other ideas we haven't touched on here.
Palin: We haven't talked much about access of our lands. I would like to see more of an atmosphere of expanding access to our lands up here in Alaska. Again, I say that as... an outdoor enthusiast that I don't like to see lands locked up for no good compelling reason. So that's going to be another focus of mine. Another focus that we haven't been able to talk about is in law enforcement, in fish and wildlife issues. I would like to see a separation of the brown shirts (fish and wildlife troopers) and blue shirts (regular troopers) again. I've always said that it was a bad idea this meshing of brown shirts and blue shirts... We have had opportunity now to look for about three years at this. I believe it is a program that could be run much better by allowing brown shirts to fulfill their mission, blue shirts to fulfill their mission, provide the tools needed for both.
News-Miner: The 18 to 30 crowd doesn't vote a heck of a lot. What do you say to them to get them to vote for you?
Palin: Yeah, I tell my own kids all the time, my oldest who is 17 now. You got to pay attention to the decisions that are made by government, big government, how it really does affect your everyday life. More importantly I tell my son how it affects your future. We go back to the gas line on that too. Decisions are made today on this gas line that lock up much of our economy and much of our opportunity for the next decades. We will have made a mistake if those are the wrong decisions for Alaska today. So I'm preaching to young people all the time... [I] think it is kind of unfortunate that a lot of our kids here in Alaska, they don't understand our Statehood Compact. They don't understand our Constitution... I think a lot of young people just assume you know that's all done in never-never land out there.