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Sarah Palin Article in Voge Magazine

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Alaska is a state full of contradictions. Gloriously beautiful, seriously cold, and magnificently endowed with an abundance of resources beginning to feel scarce—oil, natural gas, and fish—the state prides itself on its fierce independence. ALASKA, the license plate reads, THE LAST FRONTIER. At the same time, only 1 percent of that stunning land is owned by individuals. The majority is controlled by the federal government, from which the state receives more money per capita than any other in the Union, creating an ambivalent master/slave relationship, with resentment on both sides. What revenue Alaska does create comes primarily from the oil and gas companies whose operations on the North Slope keep a large percentage of Alaskans working—including Palin's own husband, Todd, a part-native snowmobile champion whom the press likes to refer to as "First Dude."

In recent years, that mix of federal largesse and big-oil money seems to have created a culture of impunity for lawmakers, and turned Alaska into a place where votes on behalf of oil interests could be bought for not much more than the price of a used car. After a three-year-long undercover investigation by the FBI, three lawmakers and several businessmen were convicted of making or receiving bribes to keep a tax on oil profits at an artificially low rate of 20 percent. More indictments are expected, causing the eyes of America to turn toward Alaska. The morning I went to visit Palin's office, CNN was interviewing the governor on the subject. "Has Alaska become a joke?" the reporter asked, referring to the way lawmakers seemed to revel in their venality, even having caps printed with the initials CBC, for "Corrupt b******* Club."

Palin grimaced. "It breaks my heart to hear that we are being ridiculed like that, but it just solidifies my commitment to clean things up," she answered. Since taking office in December 2006, she has enacted legislation mandating a one-year waiting period for politicians between leaving office and working for the energy industry. She also put the Westwind jet her predecessor had bought up for sale on eBay. He had argued he needed the plane to fly around the state, but the small native villages that dot the interior of the state have gravel runways. Westwind jets can land only on asphalt.

Pain her as they may, those revelations of corruption may have been the very thing that swept this 44-year-old Republican mother of four, whose main political experience was running a small Alaskan town (Wasilla, population 6,000), into the governor's office. As mayor, she was seen as a golden girl of the Republican Party, a hardworking, pro-business politician whose friendly demeanor (that Palin smile!) made her palatable to the typical pickup-driving Alaskan man. She ran because she wanted basic amenities for her town—paved roads, a police force. And she wasn't afraid of a challenge. "I recognized," she says, "that if we had the same good old boys serving, nothing would change. We needed some new blood. I also recognized that you had to be the top dog to make those changes."

Besides being telegenic, she had a tough-girl Alaskan résumé that most politicians could only dream of—the protein her family eats comes from fish she has pulled out of the ocean with her own hands and caribou she has shot. "It's never bothered me," she says. "That caribou has had a good life. It's been free out there on the tundra, not caged up on a farm with no place to move." During the summer, she and her husband spend time commercial-fishing thanks to a permit that has been passed down on the native side of his family from generation to generation. It's the kind of brutal work that most Americans stopped doing generations ago, but Palin relishes the challenge. "I look forward to it every year," she says.

When term limits forced Palin out of the mayorship in 2002, she was appointed chairman of the Oil & Gas Conservation Commission by the Republican powers that be. The position seemed like a dream. With four children to raise and a husband whose blue-collar job pays an hourly wage, the six-figure salary was more than welcome, but it didn't take her long to become disillusioned by the unethical behavior she witnessed firsthand. "What I saw was so obviously wrong. I was so disappointed and shocked," she says. "Oil and gas revenue account for more than 80 percent of the state's budget, but Alaskans were never going to trust us if that was how we conducted business." When her complaints were ignored, Palin saw no choice but to resign in protest. The once golden girl was suddenly out of a job.

Palin spent the next year at home, focusing on her children. But if politics is a disease, she had caught it bad. When the gubernatorial election rolled around, she waited for someone within the party to run against a governor whose disapproval ratings make George W. Bush look popular. Switching to the Democratic Party was never an option for Palin, a pro-life, free-market, NRA supporter whose most fervent wish for Alaska is to open up areas of federal wilderness land for oil development. So she stepped up to the plate and ran a campaign composed mostly of friends, family, and small donations made by people who had never before contributed to a political race.

"It would have been an ideal time for the Democrats to come back to power," says Tom Kizzia, a political reporter at The Anchorage Daily News, "but then Palin came along as a Republican outsider. Her positions might not have been as thought out as some of the other candidates, but she had this small-town sincerity that voters found very appealing. She's the kind of person who can sit and talk with you at her son's hockey game, but when she walks in the room, people stir." When the candidates were asked their favorite meal, Kizzia remembers, Palin nailed it best. "Moose stew," she said, "after a day of snowmachining."

Environmentalists may be uncomfortable with her desire to allow developers into wilderness areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the stakes for her are high and close to home. A few months ago, her eighteen-year-old son signed up with the U.S. Army. When his basic training finishes, he will almost certainly be sent to Iraq. "That made it personal for me," she says. "This kid is doing everything he can to protect the safety of the United States. Are we? Are we producing a domestic, secure form of energy instead of relying on foreign sources? We need to be doing more. And we can."

..........Curious about what kind of a background could produce someone like Palin, I called up her parents, who live 40 miles from Anchorage in the small town where Palin was mayor. "Come on over," her father, Chuck Heath, said on the phone, "unless you have a problem with small dead animals."

Downstairs, the parents took me on a tour of hundreds of family photos showing the Heaths and their children engaged in various hunting and sporting events. There was Sarah finishing a marathon. Chuck with a dead grizzly bear. The one picture that did not seem to belong showed a young Sarah Palin wearing a strapless gown and a rhinestone tiara as Miss Wasilla 1984. "That wasn't her thing," Chuck said. "We were really surprised when she wanted to do it."

...........There's a small but vocal cabal (the press calls them "Palinistas") who like to mention her as a national star, maybe even a Republican vice-presidential candidate. That seems unlikely—with only 670,000 residents, Alaska delivers fewer voters than a medium-size city in middle America. Whatever the plan, Palin herself isn't saying. "Right now, I'm just so grateful to be serving out this term. Beyond that? Dang, that's a long time away."

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