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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Washington Democratic Party hacks second-guess Gov. Palin about her relative time spent in Juneau and elsewhere

It really shouldn't surprise me or annoy me, or do anything but amuse me, when some Democratic Party hack waiting out his exile in a think-tank purports to do "reporting" for Politico.com in the form of a ridiculous bit of second-guessing of how Gov. Sarah Palin divides her time between Juneau, Anchorage, and Wasilla. But I did get worked up enough to punch out 1200+ words on the subject, in my latest guest-post at HughHewitt.com.


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter badly needed to be in Washington, D.C., rather than elsewhere. Otherwise, how could he personally monitor the use of the White House tennis courts? Some rather more effective chief executives, however, have since discovered management techniques that don't require their noses to be pressed to the windows to literally oversee their staffs' behavior.

Thirty years later and on the other side of the continent in the largest state in the Union, Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin has faced a rather different set of challenges than those of the typical Washington politician or bureaucrat. Indeed, those of us from the Lower 48 can barely imagine just how the vastness of geography and the lack of infrastructure affect the daily lives of Alaska's citizens, including, of course, its political leaders.

But that won't stop know-nothing Beltway partisans and bureaucrats from sniping at her from afar about how she chooses to divide her time between various locations in Alaska, because they have a political axe to grind and a target to smear — actual facts on the ground be damned.

[# More #] Gov. Palin's and her family's homestead is in Wasilla, part of the growing Mat-Su Valley, about an hour or so's drive from Anchorage. Anchorage, in turn, with something in the neighborhood of 280,000 residents, is the state's largest city by a huge margin, and indeed home to over 40% of the total state population (about 680,000). Naturally enough, Anchorage is the headquarters for much of Alaska's commerce and industry, education, healthcare, law firms, and media. To suggest that the Governor of Alaska can ignore or shortchange Anchorage in favor of Juneau is as ridiculous as suggesting that the Governor of New York can ignore or shortchange New York City in favor of Albany.

Of the next two largest cities, Fairbanks boasts a population of only 31,000, and Juneau, the state capital, about the same. Juneau is 571 air miles from Anchorage — about as far as Miami, FL, is from Charleston, SC — and more than an hour's flight time.  (I gather that driving between the two isn't practicable, and it may be impossible.) There have been serious, but highly controversial, proposals ever since Alaskan statehood to move the state capital to Anchorage.

Notwithstanding all this, now Gov. Palin's hysterical critics are finding fault with the number of days she's spent in Juneau versus the number of days she's spent in Anchorage or Wasilla. In a silly and juvenile article on Politico.com entitled "Playing hooky pays off for Palin," Scott Lilly — a senior fellow for former Clintonista chief of staff John Podesta's Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington — is absolutely confident of his ability to second-guess the innermost geographical and logistical workings of a state government of which he's never been a part:

Why does the governor of Alaska need to be in the state capital? There are two big reasons — and probably many smaller ones. The first big reason is that she appoints most of the people who manage the 15 departments of Alaska’s state government, containing more than 100 divisions and employing more than 50,000 people. Nearly all the department heads and division directors are headquartered in Juneau. E-mails and telephone calls alone are not effective for the governor to get advice, give directions and follow up to ensure that appropriate policy is being implemented. It is obvious that the ability to fully monitor the performance of the bureaucracies any governor has chosen to lead is greatly restricted if the governor does not spend significant time on the ground where the operations of government are housed.

But also of great importance is the governor’s ability to work with the legislature to update state policies and offer new programs for improving governance. Any effective governor must work on an ongoing basis with not only the leadership of both houses in the state legislature to build consensus and draft the governor’s proposals into language that both houses can accept, but also committee chairmen and recalcitrant members whose votes are needed to support key portions of the governor agenda. 

Memo to Mr. Lilly: Regardless of where its agencies are headquartered, lots of government functions in Alaska actually take place in Anchorage; I don't know the exact percentage, but I'm confident that you don't either, and if we simply compare the number of state employees you list to the total population of Juneau, we know something way more than half of them cannot possibly be residents of Juneau. Similarly, lots of state legislators either live in or near Anchorage or else have secondary offices there, just like the governor and lieutenant governor do. In any event, I'm even more confident that Gov. Palin has an excellent first-hand factual basis for making such observations.

More to the point, Mr. Lilly, in the 21st Century — especially in a state half the size of South America and two and a half times the size of western Europe — and whatever kinky fantasies you might secretly harbor about Gov. Palin, it's not practical for a state chief executive to walk from desk to desk with a ruler in her hand to smack state employees, or even state legislators, who are misbehaving. You imagine that proximity is the key to effective governance. Maybe you're just used to being among those naughty Washington staffers who need literally hands-on supervision, or maybe you're just guessing or exaggerating.

Since you've never done her job, Mr. Lilly, perhaps you might pay some attention instead to the results Gov. Palin has achieved — breaking, for example, a multi-year deadlock on the enabling legislation and international negotiation (through competitive bidding) of a $40 billion cross-state natural gas pipeline that will do more to accomplish American energy independence than any other politician at any level, state or federal, has ever accomplished. What's so "obvious" to you, and to whatever Alaskan opponents of Gov. Palin have been feeding you your talking points, may seem obviously ridiculous to the seventy-plus percent of Gov. Palin's own constituents who support the job she's doing, and to the rest of us in the U.S. who figure that the good folks of Alaska are probably better situated — whether in Anchorage or Barrow or Nunapitchuk — to figure out if Gov. Palin has been "playing hookey" to the detriment of the State's business.

Why was I not surprised to read, Mr. Lilly, that you were a Democratic staffer for the House Appropriations Committee, that font of all federal government spending? Yours is the sort of bureaucratic logic and argument, Mr. Lilly, relied upon by Gov. Palin's predecessor, Frank Murkowski, when he defied the state legislature and bought a luxury corporate jet which couldn't even land on most Alaska runways. Gov. Palin sold it. Now, sometimes she takes the family Piper Cub floatplane, which is older than anyone in her family. When she flies commercial, she flies coach. She drives herself to work whether she's in Juneau or Wasilla, and her total travel expenses have been about one-fifth of her predecessor's. And wherever she chooses to do it, she obviously gets things done. That's the net-net, the bottom bottom line, the acid test, and the whole polar bear. (Okay, I just made that last metaphor up, but you get my drift.)

So go back to sharpening pencils at your think-tank, Mr. Lilly. The grown-ups, including Gov. Palin, have a country to run.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 11:43 AM in 2008 Election, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


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(1) Larry Sheldon made the following comment | Sep 24, 2008 2:24:59 PM | Permalink

Hewitt's comment thing is hopelessly broken.

You can't get from Juneau to anywhere by road, all there is (or was some years ago) and Interstate to the Airport.

There is the Alaska Marine Highway (ferries).

Doesn't take much research to find that out.

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