Who Is Sarah Palin?
Sarah Palin was born on February 11, 1964, in Sandpoint, Idaho, and entered politics in 1992. In 2006, she became Alaska's youngest and first female governor. Two years later, she was tapped as Republican presidential nominee John McCain's running mate, making her the first in her party to achieve that feat. After resigning as Alaska governor in 2009, Palin went on to serve as a contributor for Fox News, wrote multiple books and launched her own online news channel.
Sarah Louise Heath was born on February 11, 1964, in Sandpoint, Idaho. At the age of 3 months, she moved to Alaska when her parents were hired to work in Skagway in southeast Alaska. Sarah Palin's father, Charles, was a science teacher and track coach. Her mother, Sally, was a school secretary.
Palin grew up in the small town of Wasilla, about 40 miles north of Anchorage. In 1982, she played on Wasilla High School's state champion girls' basketball team, picking up the nickname "Sarah Barracuda" for her intense playing style. An outdoors enthusiast, Palin grew up as an avid hunter and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, eating moose hamburgers and riding snowmobiles.
After graduating from Wasilla High in 1982, Sarah Palin wore the crown of Miss Wasilla in 1984 and was the runner-up in the Miss Alaska contest. She went on to earn a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Idaho in 1987. She also became a television sports reporter in Anchorage.
Palin eloped with her high school sweetheart, Todd Palin, on August 29, 1988, and helped run his family's commercial fishing business after their marriage. Todd, who is part Yu'pik Eskimo, also worked for BP at a Prudhoe Bay processing facility. He took leave from the company when his wife became governor to avoid a potential conflict of interest. Throughout their marriage, Palin and her husband had five children: Bristol, Willow, Piper, Track and Trig.
Entry into Alaska Politics
In 1992, Palin decided to enter the political arena. Running on the Republican ticket, she won a seat on the Wasilla City Council by opposing tax hikes and, four years later, she was elected mayor of Wasilla, knocking off three-term incumbent John Stein, 651 to 440. As mayor, Palin cut property taxes and reduced spending. She also raised the city sales tax by half of a percent in order to build a popular sports complex and put more money into public safety. Mayor Palin also effectively used the system of congressional earmarks, collecting $26.9 million in such funding, according the independent watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Palin ran her first statewide campaign in 2002 in a bid for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, but lost by fewer than 2,000 votes. Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski appointed Sarah Palin to chair the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2003. She resigned a year later in protest over what she perceived to be the "lack of ethics" of fellow Alaskan Republican leaders, including Republican Party Chair Randy Ruedrich.
In 2006, Palin won the Republican primary for Governor, defeating Murkowski. She went on to win the general election in November 2006 by defeating former Democratic Governor Tony Knowles, 49 percent to 41 percent. With her election, Palin made history as the first female governor, as well as the youngest governor, of Alaska. She was also the state's first governor to be born after Alaska achieved statehood in 1959.
While running for governor, Palin supported the so-called "bridge to nowhere," a $400 million plan to build a bridge in a remote Alaskan community. Palin said the bridge was essential for local prosperity, but once she became governor she turned against it, citing rising costs and other priorities. "I told Congress thanks but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere up in Alaska," Palin said. "If we wanted a bridge we'll build it ourselves."
With an emphasis on ethics and openness in government, Palin's administration focused on education, public safety and transportation. As a conservative Protestant, she also served as an advocate for pro-life policies; expressed her disapproval of embryonic stem cell research; pushed the belief that creationism, the idea that life was created by a deity, should be taught in public schools alongside the evolution curriculum; and supported Alaska's decision to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
On the energy front, Palin questioned the validity behind the idea that global warming is man-made. She intensely pursued a pipeline to deliver natural gas from the North Slope of Alaska to market. In the summer of 2008, the state legislature approved her plan to give a $500 million subsidy to TransCanada, a Canadian company, to help build the project. She also passed a major tax increase on state oil production, promising to give some of that money back to Alaskans in the form of a $1,200 check.
While very popular—The Anchorage Daily News has called her "the Joan of Arc of Alaska politics" and " one of the most popular local politicians in America"—Palin did not serve without controversy. The Alaska Legislature hired independent investigator Stephen Branchflower to examine the actions of Governor Palin in August 2008 after the dismissal of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. While Palin had the authority to fire Monegan, the former commissioner claimed that Palin let him go because she was angry that he did not fire Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, Palin's former brother-in-law. Palin denied any wrongdoing, saying Monegan was "insubordinate" in disputes over budget issues, and that he engaged in "egregious rogue behavior."
The Branchflower Report, which was released in October 2008, stated that Palin did not break the law, but did abuse her power as governor and violated the state's ethics act. In November of that same year, after Palin gave her deposition, the State of Alaska Personnel Board reported that there was no cause to believe Palin had violated ethics standards.
On the National Stage
While embroiled in political scandal back home, Palin emerged as a national person of interest when John McCain picked the governor to be his Vice Presidential running mate on August 29, 2008. He formally introduced her during a campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, and was nominated on September 4 at the Republican National Convention. With her nomination, Palin became the second woman to run for Vice President on a U.S. major party ticket, and the first Republican female to do so. Addressing the party's convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 3, Palin depicted herself as "just your average hockey mom," joking that the "only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick."
In her first nationally televised interview after she was named as McCain's running mate, Palin told ABC's Charles Gibson that she didn't hesitate when asked to join the ticket, and she felt prepared to run the country if necessary. "I'm ready," Palin. "I answered him 'yes' because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink."
Palin's interview was placed under intense scrutiny, and the candidate received mixed reviews by political pundits. Of particular concern was Palin's foreign policy experience, and her ability to take over as president should anything happen to McCain. The Washington Post found her comments "strikingly devoid of the diplomatic language generally used by U.S. officials when discussing relations with Russia." This criticism only deepened when, during an interview in Fairbanks, Alaska, Palin acknowledged that she had never met a leader of a foreign country and that she had visited only Canada and Mexico before a 2007 trip to Kuwait and Germany to visit U.S. troops.
The Los Angeles Times pointed out that Palin also reversed her stance on climate change, when she said "I believe that man's activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change ... Regardless of the reason for climate change, whether it's entirely, wholly caused by man's activities or is part of the cyclical nature of our planet—the warming and the cooling trends—regardless of that, John McCain and I agree that we gotta do something about it, and we have to make sure that we're doing all we can to cut down on pollution." But "less than a year ago, she said the opposite," the Times said. She cited her involvement in energy issues in oil-rich Alaska as a national security credential and added that she saw energy as a foundation of national security. On the issue of energy, Palin renewed her support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, despite McCain's opposition. But she appeared to do a sharp turn toward McCain's view on the role humans play in climate change.
There was additional concern that she didn't know enough about government policies when she failed to understand a question about the Bush Doctrine, a phrase commonly used to describe the foreign policy of the Bush administration. "Granted, this might not be something that your average hockey mom would know," The New York Times later commented, "but it probably is something that a commander-in-chief-in-waiting might have considered."
As she engaged in more interviews, the media—and the public—became more dubious of Paliln's credentials. Palin's performance in an interview with Katie Couric was widely criticized; publications such as The Huffington Post cited the candidate's inability to cite examples of John McCain's support for financial regulation. ("I'll try to find some [examples] and bring them to you," she told Couric.) After this interview, Palinl's poll numbers steeply declined, and many Republicans expressed concern that she was becoming a political liability for McCain.
In addition to her hurdles as a public speaker, Palin also faced a public image crisis when her teenage daughter, Bristol, announced that she was pregnant out of wedlock. Palin's pro-life stance made an example out of her daughter and, on September 1, 2008, during the 2008 Republican National Convention, it was announced that Bristol was pregnant and engaged to the baby's father, Levi Johnston. Johnston denied that he was pressured into the wedding, telling reporters that he and Bristol "were planning on getting married a long time ago with or without the kid. That was the plan from the start."
McCain and Palin lost the 2008 presidential election, and Palin returned to her home state of Alaska. While she resumed her duties as governor, she remained active on the national political stage. Palin formed SarahPAC, her own political action committee, in January 2009. That July, Sarah Palin announced her resignation as governor and fueled speculation that she planned to run for president in 2012. She cited the ethics complaints, a series of financially draining lawsuits and a desire not to become a lame duck governor as a few of the many reasons for her resignation.
Shortly after leaving office, Palin published her autobiography, Going Rogue: An American Life (2010). The book became an instant success, selling more than two million copies. That same year, she signed a long-term contract to be a political commentator for the Fox News Channel and penned a deal for her own television show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, on the TLC network. The reality show, which chronicled Palin's travels through the Alaska wilderness, garnered 5 million viewers—a record number for the network. Despite the show's popularity, TLC announced that they would not be renewing Palin's contract for a second season. This renewed speculation that Palin planned to run for President in 2012.
After she stepped down from political office, Palin became associated with the Tea Party movement, a generally conservative and libertarian group that endorsed reduced government spending, lower taxes and a closer adherence to the original U.S. Constitution. She endorsed a handful of successful Tea Party candidates in the 2010 midterm elections, and also launched the "Pink Elephant Movement", which she started as a way to endorse female GOP candidates.
Palin authored a second book, America by Heart, which was released in November 2010. Three years later, she debuted her next work, Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.
In 2014, the longtime Fox News contributor launched her own media outlet, The Sarah Palin Channel, an online venture that allowed subscribers to read articles and see videos from her. However, the subscription service lasted only one year, and the former governor reverted to posting videos on SarahPac.com and her Facebook page.
Palin returned to the news in 2016 for her support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The following year, she unsuccessfully attempted to sue The New York Times over an earlier op-ed that had accused her of inciting the 2011 shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Her family affairs also reentered the picture when her oldest son, Track, was twice arrested for domestic violence charges during this period.
In 2018, just before the launch of Sacha Baron Cohen's new Showtime mock interview program, Who Is America?, Palin surfaced to blast the actor for attempting to deceive her by posting as a wounded U.S. serviceman. Cohen and the network disputed her account of events, and Showtime later axed her segment from its scheduled episode.
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