Sarah Palin’s emails underscore polarizing effect
Thousands of pages of Sarah Palin’s emails while she was governor of Alaska provide an up-close view of her efforts to intensely monitor both state business and her portrayal in the media while stumping the country as part of the 2008 Republican presidential ticket.
Amid the 24,199 pages — released Friday by Alaska officials in response to media requests made in September 2008 — are also documents that reveal her fraught relationships with other statewide elected officials, whose criticism often infuriated Palin.
Taken together, the email correspondence underscores Palin’s polarizing effect long before she was a ubiquitous figure on the national political stage.
Palin’s disgust with the media was apparent as soon as she was tapped to be Sen. John McCain’s running mate — a decision that happened with a suddenness that seemed to take her and her aides by surprise as much as it did much of the country.
“Can you believe it!” Palin wrote to one aide who had sent her a congratulatory email. “He told me yesterday — it moved fast! Pray! I love you.”
She was much less in love with the media swarm that came with the nomination. She and aides objected when a blizzard of questions from reporters included queries about her favorite poem and the tanning bed in the governor’s mansion. “Arghhhh!” Palin responded, noting she had paid for the tanning bed and was “dismayed at the media.”
The darker side of her newfound fame was evident too, as the governor fielded several vicious threats against her life — all of which she forwarded to her aides without comment.
At the other end of the spectrum, the messages include many adoring missives from supporters around the country who, even before she joined the 2008 presidential ticket, saw her as a rising star.
Before the release of the emails, Palin downplayed their significance, noting that she and her family had been intensely scrutinized. Tim Crawford, treasurer of her political action committee, said the materials showcased “a very engaged Gov. Sarah Palin being the CEO of her state.”
“The emails detail a governor hard at work,” he said in a statement. “Everyone should read them.”
They also reveal the influence that Palin’s husband, Todd, had on her administration. At times, his business concerns appeared to shape her agenda. On July 4, 2008, he complained in an email to her that the Peter Pan seafood operation to which he sold salmon from Bristol Bay was “plugged up” — meaning that the processor was at capacity and couldn’t handle any more fish.
“Way to [sic] early to be on limits,” he wrote. “Just venting.”
The governor forwarded his email to acting chief of staff Michael Nizich, writing: “This will have to be another mission we get on.”
A few days later, Cora Crome, Palin’s fisheries policy adviser, sent a long note to Palin and Nizich saying she had “made it clear that we are disappointed with the way production is going in the bay and asked that they do everything in their power to increase production and lift limits as soon as possible.” The regional supervisor from the Department of Fish and Game was “applying pressure to processors,” she said.
“Thank you,” Palin responded. “It’s very, very disappointing that they left the fishermen high and dry again.”
In her exchanges with aides, Palin’s frustration with her opponents is evident, along with her unvarnished style — she called criticism of her state ethics proposal by the Republican speaker of the House “the most stupid comment I’ve heard all year.”
She was particularly shaken after a blogger posted a rumor in July 2008 that she’d had an affair. “Guys, I may be pretty wimpy about this family stuff, but I feel like I’m at the breaking point with the hurtful gossip.... I hate this part of the job and many days I feel like it’s not worth it.”
Even as her name was floated as a potential national political figure, Palin maintained a combative stance against her own party. In early August 2008 — just weeks before she joined the GOP ticket — the governor cautioned her staff that “we need to remember the GOP, for the most part ... has not had any support or assistance provided our administration so our time and efforts will continue to be spent on serving Alaskans, not party politics.”
The emails also reveal her tense relations with members of her home-state congressional delegation. Her suggestion that Alaska’s then-Sen. Ted Stevens needed to explain his role in a corruption scandal upset other Republican leaders, including Rep. Don Young. In September 2008, upon hearing that Young wanted to talk to her, she wrote: “Pls find out what it’s about. I don’t want to get chewed out by him yet again, I’m not up for that.”
A member of Palin’s Washington staff at the time, Larry Persily, said in an interview that there was constant tension between Palin and Alaska’s members of Congress.
“If you are governor you need to really make an effort to establish a relationship and get along with the congressional delegation,” Persily said. “She didn’t do it.”
With her aides, however, Palin could be lavish in her praise.
“Oh you are awesome and encouraging,” Palin wrote to staffer Ivy Frye in December 2007. “And congrats, also, on our first-most-awesome year in office together!”
“You are just great and I loooved the jacket you were wearing!” Frye responded.
The one significant internal controversy that rocked Palin’s administration as governor — the firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in an affair known as “Troopergate” — is the subject of dozens of feverish emails from inside her administration. The governor insisted that Monegan had “spoken untruthfully” when he said he had been pressured to fire Palin’s former brother-in-law.
In a chaotic scramble to respond to Monegan’s claims, Palin seemed increasingly frantic when the controversy refused to subside.
“I’m seriously about ready to lose it,” Palin wrote on July 21, 2008, 10 days after firing Monegan. “I have been on the phone for two solid tonight on this alone. It’s ridiculus [sic].”
The correspondence spans the period from the beginning of Palin’s term in December 2006 through Sept. 30, 2008, when the state began its search in response to requests. Palin remained in office until July 2009.
Before releasing the emails, the state redacted more than 2,200 pages worth of materials, citing exemptions to public records laws.
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Times staff writers Maloy Moore and Ken Schwencke in Juneau, Robin Abcarian and Ben Welsh in Los Angeles, Kim Murphy in Seattle and Melanie Mason, Christine Mai-Duc and Kim Geiger in Washington contributed to this report.