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Gov. Palin Has Reputation For Independence

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

More now on Sarah Palin, her personal story and her tenure as governor of Alaska. A few weeks ago, NPR's Martin Kaste spent some time with her at the state house in Juneau.

MARTIN KASTE: Alaska's modest capital building looks a lot like an old-fashioned middle school, and going to see the governor up on the third floor feels a little like a trip to the principal's office, but it's less intimidating.

For starters, there's the baby swing by the governor's desk. Palin says her 7-year-old daughter loves showing off her baby brother to state officials.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): We just had a cabinet meeting over at the House, so of course she has to come plopping down the stairs carrying the baby to show everybody (unintelligible). I'm like, oh my gosh.

KASTE: Palin has sort of a gee-whiz manner that instantly puts you at ease unless you happen to be a lobbyist.

Gov. PALIN: I don't let lobbyists come into my office.

KASTE: Apparently, it's a pretty strict rule.

Gov. PALIN: I've had about two lobbyists, two, maybe three lobbyists, who have snuck in with a group of people, so I can't say they've never been in, but we don't invite lobbyists in.

KASTE: Palin attracted national attention for her efforts to clean up Alaska's political system, following a major corruption scandal. The FBI has been investigating the oil industry's influence on the state legislature, and three lawmakers are now in jail for bribery.

Add to that, Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, on trial next month for allegedly hiding gifts from oil executives. All are Republicans.

Gov. PALIN: There's been some evidence of some in the Republican Party just taking it for granted that power and authority was given them, and that's been very, very, very unfortunate. It's been embarrassing.

KASTE: In this year's congressional race, Palin refused to endorse Don Young, the Republican who's represented Alaska for 35 years. Instead, she backed one of his challengers. The primary election was Tuesday, but the vote was so close it may take weeks to declare a winner.

Governors don't usually oppose incumbent congressmen of their own party. Palin says she sees the same independent streak in John McCain.

Gov. PALIN: I think McCain is known as a maverick, and that's why I love McCain. He has risen above the obsessive partisanship, and I say right on, more power to him.

KASTE: But last month, before she knew she'd be picked as VP, Palin also admitted that she doesn't always agree with McCain on everything.

Gov. PALIN: We do differ on opening ANWR and some of the energy issues.

KASTE: Drilling for oil in ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is something that almost all Alaska politicians support, Palin included. McCain has compared it to drilling in the Grand Canyon. But his new running mate says Alaska should be ramping up production to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

Alaskans generally support Palin's program, and they like how she's tried to press the oil companies to share more of the wealth with the state. Still, some consider her a policy lightweight, and they're shocked that she was even considered for vice president.

Mr. ANDREW HALCRO (Blogger): You know, I'm sorry, really? I mean a heartbeat away from the presidency?

KASTE: Political blogger Andrew Halcro ran against Palin in 2006 as an independent Republican.

Mr. HALCRO: What I saw on the campaign trail was I saw nine months of glittering generalities. Whenever I tried to call her on those during debates, boy, the backlash was just amazing.

KASTE: Halcro also says Palin's clean image is something of an illusion. He points to evidence suggesting the governor may have tried to get her sister's ex-husband fired from his job as a state trooper. Palin denies this, but the legislature has now commissioned an investigation. The report may come out in October, just as the McCain-Palin ticket is heading into the campaign homestretch.

In Alaska, some of the kindest words about Palin come from Democrats. Beth Kerttula is the minority leader in the state house.

State Representative BETH KERTTULA (Democrat, Alaska): I think of Governor Palin more as a populist, really, than being part of any political party.

KASTE: Kerttula sounds almost pleased to have this particular Republican upstairs in the governor's office.

State Rep. KERTTULA: It's a relief having a woman in that position because you can see that Governor Palin is just herself. You know, she had a baby, she has family stuff, she has things she has to deal with every day, but she's still right there leading.

KASTE: Outside Palin's office is the Hall of Governors, a row of portraits dating back to the days of the Alaska territory. Her picture is on the end. And next to some of those old guys, her smiling face is quite a contrast. It's a contrast Alaskans like, and now the question is: will the same effect work on the national stage?

Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.