With her daughter Piper watching closely, Governor Sarah Palin reads a legislative proclamation honoring life-long resident Barbara Kalen for her service to the arts and humanities of Alaska. See Special Coverage of the governor's visit back to her first Alaska home below.

Photo by Chelsea Bennett

Governor visits her first Alaska home, vows to 'clean up' state government


Coming back to Skagway, her early childhood home, helped Governor Sarah Palin get through one of the darkest days of statehood.
As VECO executives pleaded guilty in Anchorage Monday morning to charges of bribery of legislators and extortion, the new governor was waking to the quiet of Dyea at the Chilkoot Trail Outpost. The phone calls and Blackberry postings would begin, she said, but thankfully service to the old town was spotty. She had enjoyed being away from Juneau with her three daughters and her parents, Chuck and Sally Heath. They first brought her with them to Skagway in 1964, when Alaska’s first female governor was just three months old.
For the next five years, they lived in Skagway. Palin remembers porcupines under the buildings while they lived at the old tank farm, now site of Jewell Gardens where a reception was held for her Monday night.
In one of the sun rooms, Palin spoke with media for a half hour about growing up in Skagway, and various issues that are affecting the community. She made a point of bringing up what was going on in Juneau and Anchorage, calling the developments “disgusting.”
Palin repeatedly said she enjoyed getting away from the capitol and lobbyists to meet real Alaskans, but she was clearly ready to get back to Juneau that night and work on pushing through an ethics bill, so there would be no more shenanigans “on my watch.”
A proud father, Chuck Heath, said later that his daughter was honest to the core. Usually that comes from a good upbringing, and they had a nice life in Skagway.
Palin said her dad taught school in winter and worked for the railroad in summer. After a couple years, they moved into the old Elmer Rasmuson house, now owned by Andy and Joanne Beierly. She walked through the house Monday, thinking how much bigger it looked to a small child. She remembered the rock fireplace that Rasmuson built, and the wooden sidewalks as they walked downtown.

Charlotte Jewell pins a flower corsage on the governor as Kathy Hosford watches. - Chelsea Bennett

The family moved to Wasilla, but she has been back over the years to run in the Klondike Road Relay and hike the Chilkoot Trail. She said coming back was different this time, as she showed the town to her own kids.
“I was the same age when we left here as my daughter Piper is now,” she said. “I enjoyed watching her, seeing how things were through her eyes.”
Palin said she used to walk “by myself – I don’t know if parents do that now –around town to the neighbors,” home from catechism, and remembered the wind blowing, drying the clothes in the back yard. Also going to her dad’s basketball games – he coached the high school team.
She remembered Skagway being a neatly laid out town with a road on one side, railroad on the other, an airport, and boats on the water. “You had all these modes of transportation then, infrastructure, right here, and of course now it is being capitalized on by the tourism industry.”
She said it was amazing to watch the town’s transformation from Sunday to Monday, its first cruise ship day.
She said she supports last summer’s cruise initiative “literally,” believing that voters knew what they were doing, especially in wanting ocean rangers on the ships. She said she has encouraged legislators “not to tweak it.” She said she had only read the headline about the tour vendors’ law suit that day on her Blackberry and would need to get back to Juneau to study it.
As for the economics of the initiative, she said most Alaskans wanted a value for their resource, through the tax on multi-national corporations that bring the tourists here. But she said she is concerned about possible adverse effects in the initiative on small operators within the state.
“We want to make sure that proprietary information should be allowed to be kept confidential for the mom and pops, when you talk about their books and bottom line,” Palin said. She thanked Rep. Lindsay Holmes, who drafted HB 217, for tackling the disclosure issue. As for the rest of the initiative, she reiterated that it should not be touched.
Turning to the borough issue, Palin said she is a strong believer in “local control” and wants the rest of state government to believe that government from the people is the most responsible form of government. “That’s always going to be the foundation that I build on.”

Governor Palin greets Marj and John Harris, who knew her when they lived in Wasilla before coming to Skagway. - Chelsea Bennett

As for the preclearance issue, she said DCEED Commissioner Emil Notti had to look at “the numbers, the vote, the racial, if you will, makeup of the community, and he was obligated to present to the Department of Justice what the numbers are.” But she said that the commissioner also knows where the administration wants to head with the borough issue, “local control – let the people decide what is best in their area in terms of governance.”
She said the administration is new to the process of borough formation and what the rules are, but her message for the state and other communities seeking boroughs will be “local control... don’t force it or go over their heads unless that is what they choose.”
Palin spoke about the ferry system, saying ferry users deserve the same attention as road users. She admitted it is a hard concept for many in the rest of the state to grasp, but she is telling people the ferry system is Southeast’s highway, and that people in this area rely on it. But she is also looking at making sure the system has enough money to run efficiently, “on a reliable schedule,” and that the people’s money is spent wisely.
She said new DOT Commissioner Leo von Scheben is committed to a strong ferry system. She added that “a lot of politics were played in the past, and that is why we changed characters,” bringing in sound transportation minds to figure out “how people who are reliant on the ferry system can get from point A to point B with a reliable schedule and service.”
Palin drew from her Skagway past to illustrate her point. Her brother burned his foot badly jumping through a fire, and her mother had to take him down to Juneau on the ferry to the hospital. “All these years later, that’s still what people have to rely on here in some instances,” she said.

Chuck Heath, talks with former Skagway students Denise Taylor and Beryl Hosford, known to him back in the 1960s as the Lingle sisters, and the governor talks about issues in an interview with KHNS and News reporters. - Jeff Brady

As for the road issue, she said she wants to see the communities of Juneau, Haines and Skagway get together and tell state government “yea or nay.” She said the Skagway vote was no, but she hears from long-time residents who really want it. Juneau is still split. And she hears from others who want to be able to “drive to our capital city. She includes herself in that camp, but says it really should be up to the communities affected by the road, and it’s hard to make a decision “when they are so split on it.”
She said she canceled the “nonsensical” pioneer road contracts that former Gov. Murkowski tried to push through at the end of his term, but now is waiting to see if the federal Corps of Engineers will even permit the road. She said she is still willing to explore the costs, environmental impacts, avalanche safety, and seek more community input.
Personally, she said she enjoys the road down to Skagway and would like to drive on to the capital city, but she knows she can’t let personal reasons cloud “objectivity needed to make the right decisions for the state.”
She closed by saying it was “really good to get out of Juneau.” after learning about the arrests of legislators last Friday. But Monday’s news about the guilty pleas for oil industry executives was “atrocious... I’m as disgusted as the rest of Alaskans.”
She said it was good to be outside of Juneau talking with real Alaskans who are saying, “we’re expecting you to clean this up.”
She was ready to head back to Juneau that night “and get back to what we were elected to do... enough is enough. There are problems in state government, and on our watch it is our responsibility to show people that we are going to clean things up.”
By mid-week, her ethics bill had sailed through the Senate.

Gov. Palin joins AML President Bourcy, mayors in support of revenue sharing

JUNEAU - Governor Sarah Palin continues to stress the importance of municipal revenue sharing to state legislators. During a recent press conference in the Governor’s press room, mayors, assembly and council members from across the state were present to listen and to support Gov. Palin’s plan to ensure that communities receive revenue sharing and PERS
relief this upcoming fiscal year.
Municipal Revenue Sharing, cut during the Murkowski administration, has been seen as a necessary source of funding for the municipalities of Alaska, providing tax relief to the residents of larger communities, while also providing smaller communities with the funds to support basic municipal services.
“Many communities across the state depend on revenue sharing to survive,” said Tim Bourcy, AML President and Mayor of Skagway during the April 24 press conference . “Revenue sharing provides smaller communities with the funds to get by on a daily basis.”
Governor Palin has continued to support revenue sharing and PERS relief. She showed her support by including $48 million for revenue sharing and $78 million for PERS relief in the proposed FY08 operating budget.
“I have been consistent in my belief that services are best provided at the most local level possible. It is the most responsive level of government that can best prioritize the services and projects supported by Alaskans.
“Today, there are certain extraordinary circumstances and costs that have a real negative impact on our ability to meet Alaskans’ needs. This year, oil prices have placed the state in a position to assist local governments in providing relief. When this state can afford it, we should pass that relief on,” said Governor Palin.
The governor continued by stating, “This [revenue sharing] is something the state could afford back when oil was $9 a barrel.”
However, both the House and Senate, to date, have removed revenue sharing from the Governor’s budget.
In addition to Bourcy, several other mayors stood with the governor, and then testified before the legislative committees over the course of two days.