By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
A few days after Ruedrich's resignation, Palin searched his commission e-mail and found damaging evidence of his ties to Evergreen and his party abuse of the commission. For reasons she has never explained, she took a month to send those e-mails to the attorney general. In that intervening time, she talked twice to the attorney general's office, and her own subsequent notes indicated that she expressed "concerns" about whether a continuing investigation was needed, since Ruedrich had already stepped down.
By the time she finally forwarded the e-mails, which were very damaging to Evergreen as well, the company had dumped its top Wasilla-based executive and had begun to withdraw from its Alaska adventure. A couple of weeks later, she surprised everyone and resigned herself, attributing it later to the dilatory response she was getting from state officials. In fact, when she quit, she had given the officials less time to act after getting the e-mails than she'd taken to send them.
Michelle Church, who was the director of the same citizens' group that Evans chaired, believes that Palin was "definitely supportive of the drilling" and "opportunistic" when she switched and went after Evergreen and Ruedrich. "It really strengthened her support in the community," recalls Church, who was elected to the Mat-Su assembly as a result of the methane controversy. "She turned on them because it was to her political advantage to do so." The target was the governorship.
When she resigned from the commission in January 2004, Palin was simply trying to decide which Murkowski she would challenge—Lisa for U.S. Senate, or Frank for the governorship. Lisa Murkowski had a couple million in the bank, while the governor's campaign kitty was strangely barren. Frank Murkowski's nepotism, proposed sales tax, and elimination of a longevity bonus for seniors—all of which happened before Palin took Ruedrich on—had depressed his approval ratings so badly that many thought he wouldn't seek re-election. Palin wrote an op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News in April 2004, reliving her days as basketball point guard "Sarah Barracuda" and lauding the good competition of public life. But a week later, she announced that she would not run against Lisa Murkowski, attributing it to her son Track, who she said opposed it. Then she set her sights on the governorship. When Murkowski, the oldest governor in America at 73, finally did decide in May 2006 to run again, Palin had already been an announced candidate for seven months, perfectly positioned as his reform nemesis. He spent a third of what he did in 2002 and lost badly.
SARAH PALIN'S MAVERICK image flies in the face of her longtime ties to the Republican patriarch of Alaska politics, Senator Ted Stevens, who is on trial in Washington for taking $250,000 in gifts from VECO, an oil-services company that was once Palin's biggest donor. Palin remained nominally neutral in the recent GOP primary, shunning two Republicans who tried to give the already-indicted Stevens a serious challenge. Her chief of staff, Mike Tibbles, left his state post to become Stevens's campaign manager, and she did a press conference with Stevens shortly before the vote. (Tibbles's wife is still a top appointee in Palin's administration.) A Stevens campaign consultant, Art Hackney, says: "She has campaigned with him, and they are enjoying a good relationship." Asked on a visit to New York recently if she was supporting Stevens's re-election, Palin replied that his trial had just started. "We'll see where that goes," said Palin, who forced the resignation of Ruedrich and another top Murkowski aide on ethics charges that never came close to reaching the level of an indictable offense.
Vic Vickers, a wealthy banker who ran against Stevens in the GOP primary and spent $700,000 of his own money, tells the Voice that Palin and Stevens "are very close" and that the two organizations "merged to defeat my candidacy." While Palin has called for the resignation of Stevens's son Ben as national committeeman, Vickers said that "vicious attacks" against him were "coming out of her office" during the primary. "They just torched me in the end," the anti-Bush and anti-war Republican said. Dave Cuddy, a more conventional Republican and former legislator who also challenged Stevens in the primary, said he reached out to Palin: "We did call, and we played telephone tag. I think she was uncomfortable. She didn't support me because she thought that I was not going to win."
Palin's ties to Stevens go back nearly a decade, when she retained Stevens's former chief of staff, Steve Silver, as the Washington lobbyist for Wasilla. He opened doors for her on lobbying trips to Washington for earmarks. Silver's firm was so tied to Stevens that it also included the senator's former counsel and, according to registration forms, his son. It also lobbied for Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the beneficiary of Stevens's pork-barrel favorite, the since-killed Bridge to Nowhere, as well as for the Alaska Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, sponsor of the second Nowhere Bridge that's still alive and runs near Palin's house. Ironically, the firm was also so tight with Frank Murkowski that it was Murkowski's since-convicted top aide, Jim Clark, who once headed its lobbying unit and brought Silver aboard.