Assuring A Tough Return

Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy has not been kind to her in Alaska. While her pick assured John McCain of Alaska’s three electoral college votes (which Republicans haven’t lost since 1968), Palin’s time in the spotlight has not been kind in-state. She’s dropped about 20 points in the polls and while approval ratings in the 60s would be the envy of most governors, they represent a precipitous drop for Palin. Moreover, in the two-odd months that Palin has been McCain’s VP pick, Palin has experienced a much higher degree of vetting than she received both as a gubernatorial candidate and as governor. The focus of the national vetting has included Troopergate, Palin’s quasi-dictatorial tenure as Wasilla mayor, her misuse of government funds to pay for travel for her children and husband, her charging state taxpayers for time she spends in her own home, and the extra-legal role Todd Palin has played as his wife’s advisor.

Today we can add to this list an even greater understanding of how Sarah Palin billed Alaska taxpayers for non-state related travel by her daughters. The AP reports:

Governor Sarah Palin charged the state for her children to travel with her, including to events where they were not invited, and she later amended expense reports to specify that they were on official business.

The charges included costs for hotel and commercial flights for three daughters to join Palin to watch their father in a snowmobile race, and a trip to New York, where the governor attended a five-hour conference and stayed with 17-year-old daughter Bristol for five days and four nights in a luxury hotel.

In all, Palin has charged the state $21,012 for her three daughters’ 64 one-way and 12 round-trip commercial flights since she took office in December 2006. In some other cases, she has charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls. …

Palin justified having the state pay for the travel of her daughters – Bristol, 14-year-old Willow, and 7-year-old Piper – by noting on travel forms that the girls had been invited to attend or participate in events on the governor’s schedule. After she was picked by John McCain as his running mate and reporters asked for the records, Palin ordered changes to previously filed expense reports. In the amended reports, Palin added phrases such as “First Family attending” and “First Family invited” to explain the girls’ attendance. …

But some organizers of the events said they were surprised when the Palin children showed up uninvited, or said they agreed to a request by the governor to allow the children to attend. Several other organizers said the children accompanied their mother and did not participate. [Emphasis added]

Vacations, luxury hotels, long flights, and uninvited children. Sarah Palin treated the Alaska treasury like a blank check for vacationing with her children. Worse, she initially hid disclosure of these expenses related to her children and only disclosed this outrageous expenditures when the national spotlight of the vice presidency was focused on Alaska following her pick.

Sarah Palin has not made many friends in Alaska politics since joining the McCain ticket. Stories like this one by the AP is certain to ensure that she continues to hemorrage support in Alaska. While the $150,000 in RNC-paid clothes will surely get more attention in the Lower 48, I don’t think many Alaskans will care too much. However $21,012 of AK money going straight to the vacation funds of Bristol, Willow, & Piper Palin…that will piss people off.

Palin will likely return to Alaska next month as a defeated vice presidential candidate. She will continue to face the aftermath of the Branchflower report, which showed multiple ethics and legal violations by her and her administration in the firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. The multiple stories of the Palin’s misusing public funds to live a lavish lifestyle, like the one out today by the AP, ensure that Palin will not be coming home to a friendly environment. Frankly, when you’re facing the consequences of a major ethics violation, everything else that comes out only increases your political vulnerability. As I said before, Palin isn’t making friends in Alaska as a vice presidential candidate. As a result she can expect that her enemies, both Republican and Democrat, will come calling when the next legislative session convenes.

I would be surprised if there is the political will to impeach Sarah Palin for Troopergate alone. As long as the various travel and reimbursement scandals continue to emerge, I won’t rule out impeachment on whole. Regardless of impeachment, Palin will have a very difficult time getting her agenda through the Alaska legislature. Her VP run has given a far greater statewide platform to her political opponents. I wouldn’t be shocked if Palin’s approval numbers continue to drop and she fails to win reelection in 2010.

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