From Miss Congeniality To “Sarah Barracuda”, How Sarah Palin Changed From A Pro-Tax Politician To A Ruthless Pol

By Glenn Church | Related entries in Palin

Sarah PalinSarah Palin has been Governor of Alaska for less than two years. Her longest stint as a political official was as mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla, Alaska, for six years. Today, Wasilla has less than 7,000 residents. When Sarah Palin was elected to its city council in 1992, its population was 4,635. In 66 days, she stands at the threshold of assuming the second-highest office in a country of over 300 million people. That is an enormous step.

There is much to know about her, but what can be gleaned from her early political past is a highly ambitious and strong-willed woman. However, the mythology presented by her supporters as a tax-cutting fiscal conservative is not what it appears.

In 1984, she was selected as Miss Wasilla and later runner-up in the Miss Alaska contest. She earned the pleasant title of Miss Congeniality. However, this is just one side of Sarah Palin. Two years earlier in 1982, she led her high school basketball team to a surprise state championship. At that time, her aggressive play earned her the nickname “Sarah Barracuda.” Fourteen years later, when she assumed the mayor’s position in Wasilla, that nickname would re-emerge.

In1996, Palins defeated three-term Wasilla Mayor John Stein by 616 votes to 413. It was a good year for Republicans, and she was swept in with a conservative tide that ran throughout the Mat-Su Valley just north of Anchorage.

Palin began her political career in 1992 when she won a seat on the city council with 52 per cent of the vote. In that year, she was not the tax-cutting fiscal conservative presented today. Even the non-partisan nationaljournal.com has it wrong: “Palin won a seat on the Wasilla City Council in 1992 as a ‘new face, new voice’ and by opposing tax increases.” Not true. She cut her political teeth advocating a massive tax increase that would balloon Wasilla’s budget. Prior to 1992, Wasilla survived primarily on a property tax base of less than $500,000.

Palin had a plan to change Wasilla forever. She was one of the primary backers of a 2 per cent sales tax plan intended to start a police department. It would later become the primary source of all city funding. In 1992, the sales tax Palin supported passed by a thin 493-444 margin.

“I’d feel safer saying this if the margin was wider, but I think Wasilla finally sees the light. People see the need for change,” said Palin.

One of her allies in proposing the tax hike was Mayor Stein. Change they would get, especially four years later when Palin challenged her sales tax ally Stein.

Palin’s campaign for her first mayoral race involved a lot of hard work and some questionable campaign tactics. Palin said she went to the household of every Wasilla voter, except for those with vicious dogs. She also followed up with handwritten letters to voters with a history of regular voting. She attacked Stein as a ”good ole boy” who needed to go. The mayor’s race was a nonpartisan office, but Palin was aware that the traditionally Democratic tendencies of Wasilla were changing to Republican. Stein claims his loss was influenced by Palin’s injection of non-mayoral issues like gun control and abortion.

Once again, Palin ran as a candidate of change. She advocated cutting the mayor’s bloated $68,000 salary, slashing local property taxes in half and scrutinizing the city’s funding of the arts. She advocated more funding for infrastructure and enticing business development.

Stein had been in office for three terms and many people were ready for change. Palin fit the bill. Stein’s legacy had been impressive. The city had created a police force, a 2 percent sales tax and $3 million in reserves. However, that might have been his undoing. With so much in reserves, people did not see the reason for continuing to pay high local taxes.

During the election, the city department heads lined up in favor of Stein. When Stein was defeated, Palin took no prisoners. Shortly after taking office, she requested that the police chief, public works director, finance director and library director resign as an act of loyalty. The director of the city museum had already resigned a few weeks earlier. Palin, in one of her first moves as mayor, eliminated his position.

Palin then proceeded to fire the police chief and library director. The city museum, now without its director, also faced an additional $32,000 in cuts. The three remaining employees, elderly and generally nonpolitical women, knew that at least one of them had to go. Refusing to choose among themselves, they protested by resigning en masse.

The change was a little too much for the townspeople of little Wasilla. A group of about 60, calling itself the Concerned Citizens of Wasilla, organized for the recall of the new mayor. At this point, Palin had been in office for four months. However, the group held off on the recall, asking Palin to explain herself first.

At that point, Palin backed down a bit. The library director could remain, but Palin was adamant that the police chief, Irl Stambaugh, be dismissed. Stambaugh responded with a lawsuit accusing the mayor of contract violation, wrongful termination and gender discrimination. The lawsuit did not do Stambaugh any good as he was replaced. The recall fires slowly smoldered away. Palin survived the crisis that could have ended her political career.

With the 2 per cent sales tax, Wasilla’s coffers had grown considerably since 1992. By 1996, it was bringing in $4 million a year, compared to $500,000 from property taxes. Palin proceeded with her promise to cut property taxes as well as eliminate the town’s personal property tax, business inventory tax and taxes on boats, snowmachines and planes.

The tax cutting appears quite impressive. However, Wasilla was not a town in dire financial straits. It had a $3 million surplus. Besides, Palin’s tax-cutting reputation was only possible because of the 2 per cent sales tax she helped initiate in 1992.

Wasilla is the commercial hub for the Mat-Su Valley. By imposing a 2 per cent sales tax, the city was able to collect money from non-residents. Suddenly flush in funds, Mayor Stein and his supporters used the money liberally on projects while developing a surplus. Palin figured if there is a surplus, then there are too many taxes. She slashed taxes for the residents, but kept the sales tax that was primarily funded by non-residents. It is hard to go wrong on a tax policy that brings in money from outsiders and slashes taxes for taxpayers.

Wasilla citizens agreed and kept her in office with an overwhelming 909 to 292 victory over Stein in a 1999 rematch.

The tax-cutting Miss Congeniality found a comfortable place alongside “Sarah Barracuda’s” tangling with her political opponents. Repeatedly, Palin has appeared single-minded, almost close-minded, in her decision-making. The librarian director Palin spared, Mary Ellen Emmons, recounted an uncomfortable discussion with Palin. Palin asked her if she “could live with censorship of library books.” Fortunately, censorship never happened. Palin said the conversation was only a “rhetorical” exercise.” Nevertheless, it is an “exercise” few politicians dare broach.

Once Palin has made up her mind, she moves forward without regard to others. It is remarkably similar to George Bush’s mindset, except Bush is loyal to his friends. Palin has show little sentimentality, as John Cramer was to learn.

For six years, John Cramer was Palin’s deputy administrator at Wasilla. Suddenly, seven weeks before her term was to expire in 2002, Cramer received a dismissal notice a day before his weeklong vacation was to begin. Although Cramer and Palin left on good terms, Cramer was never given an explanation other than that Palin wanted to make the transition easier for the next mayor. Cramer thought he might be able to do that staying on.

“Based on my experience over the last six years with the city, I certainly felt that I would have been valuable to the next person, whoever that may be,” Cramer said.

Her fiscal conservative reputation took another blow in 2002 when she pushed through a multi-use sports complex. The land purchase was mishandled and led to an extra cost, plus that 2 per cent sales tax Palin advocated in 1992 was raised up a ¼ of a percent. When she left office, Wasilla had $20 million in long-term debt. That exceeded $3,000 per resident. It had a budget close to $6 million. That is a long way from the town financed by property taxes before Palin became a council member. In all, Palin’s tenure in Wasilla’s city goverment resulted in a massive tax increase and vast expansion of city services.

After an ill-fated race for Lt. Governor in 2002, Palin took a position as Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. She quickly ran afoul of the Republican establishment. Once again, she claimed opposition to a “good ole boy” network. In 2006, she ran a successful insurgent campaign against the sitting Republican Governor in the primary and beat a former two-term Democratic Governor in the general election. The tenacity and determination of “Sarah Barracuda” was never clearer than in that race.

Nevertheless, the ruthless politician in Palin may remain as well. A political scandal involving the firing of Walter Monegan, the state’s public safety director, has drawn increasing attention. Monegan refused to fire the estranged former brother-in-law of Palin, Michael Wooten, a state trooper. Although Wooten is not a sympathetic character, Palin has admitted that calls from her office that could be misinterpreted as political pressure. The state legislature, split between Republican control in the House and a Democratic-Republican coalition in the Senate, authorized an investigation into Palin’s conduct. Monegan’s firing looks remarkably like Palin’s past in 1996 when she swept out the city’s department heads. Once again, it looks like a polarized George Bush outlook. Palin appears to see the world as “you are either with me or against me.”

Behind the easy smile and past honor as Miss Congeniality is a darker person. “Sarah Barracuda” does not take prisoners with those who oppose her. In a leadership position, that is not always a bad thing. However, a closed mind and a “take no prisoners” attitude often spells trouble. Is Sarah Palin open to outside ideas? That remains unanswered, but growing up in a small Alaskan town does not generally expose one to the wider world of national politics and international relations.

Although Palin appears incorruptible, there is doubt that she can see the world through the eyes of others. Her duplicity on taxes, advocating it, then tax-cutting, then massive spending and advocating more taxes while appearing as a fiscal conservative is disturbing.

Who is Sarah Palin? The sweet Miss Congeniality from Wasilla or the single-minded “Sarah Barracuda” at point guard? We have 66 days to find out.

(from Foolocracy.com)


This entry was posted on Sunday, August 31st, 2008 and is filed under Palin. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Responses to “From Miss Congeniality To “Sarah Barracuda”, How Sarah Palin Changed From A Pro-Tax Politician To A Ruthless Pol”

  1. Tully Says:

    So she restructured taxes in a rational and positive that provided enhanced benefits for the town, and she’s not a smilin’ little pushover?

    Those are features, not bugs.

  2. mark 5.56 Says:

    good news, by COB on 8-30, several sources are saying 7 million, in online contributions to McCain/Palin since the announcement. these are not big corporate donors, it is labor day weekend, these are people at home, I bet McCain likes the Internet now!

  3. Ed Says:

    :Who is Sarah Palin? The sweet Miss Congeniality from Wasilla or the
    :single-minded “Sarah Barracuda” at point guard?

    Well, I for one, hope she is “Sarah Barrracuda”. I think that is EXACTLY
    what is needed to deal with the bought-and-paid-for elitist wannabes in the bloated, wasteful government in Washington.

    I also firmly believe that a (large) majority of the American electorate agrees
    with me.

    We’ll see, won’t we .. :)

    Go get ‘em girl!

  4. sarah jones Says:

    You people must not have read the article, or you don’t care what her policies and experience have added up to so far. Of special note to anyone who cares about our country, the resumes of most, if not all, former Vice-Presidents over the past 50 years included a law degree and/or military service and/or enough experience in the U.S. Senate or Congress to capably perform these duties. Palin is the most inexperienced of all VP candidates in the past 100 years, according to presidential scholars, whose opinion is as non-partisan as it gets. She is also being investigated for abuse of power and ethics violation, as well as in her short political career, driven the people of Wasilla to petition to have her removed from office. She broached the subject of banning books from the local library and is an extremist regarding abortion- no to rape and incest as well. Is this the person who can be President of the Senate? A person who never studied the constitution, upon which our laws and rules are based? She may well be a nice person, but is she ready to lead this country from Day One? Can she negotiate with nuclear weapons building countries, or is she as much of a power monger as McCain/Bush?

  5. mark 5.56 Says:

    yea! the last presidential candidate that was this inexperienced was…. oh heck what was his name again? oh yea Abraham Lincoln

  6. steinAK Says:

    Very well done. I’m glad you’ve written this piece.

    My notes:
    John Stein gets the credit for getting a sales tax designed and passed in that forsaken city. I don’t see how she had anything to do with it except a vote on the council. The place was lawless – no police at all. John Stein and Irl Stambaugh brought Wasilla out of the ghetto with huge advances in the town that became a city.
    Wasilla Mayor is not a figurehead position – it is Administrator and a huge responsibility. Palin couldn’t cut the cake. All she could do was fire everyone who knew what hard work needed to be done by the Mayor and then hired new folks who would do all the work. The position of Deputy Administrator never existed before Sarah Palin created it so she could hoist the work previously done by John Stein onto someone else’s back – not hers.

    This woman is too distracted to honestly deal with the real work needed as Governor. She will do worse, imho, in our federal government.

  7. Ed Says:

    Sarah Jones said:

    “… most inexperienced of all VP candidates in the past 100 years, according to presidential scholars, whose opinion is as non-partisan as it gets.”

    Sarah, you seem awed by the pronouncements and “experience” of liberal-academia and lawyers.

    Fortunately, most of America doesn’t see it your way.

    See you at the polls.

  8. Ed Says:

    steinAK said:

    “All she could do was fire everyone who knew what hard work needed to be done by the Mayor and then hired new folks who would do all the work.”

    One word: Patronage

    I’m sure that “patronage” never occurs in the hometown of Senator Obama.

    Chicago, isn’t it?

  9. deena larsen Says:

    Thanks for all of these details. They matter, but Palin’s character is what concerns me. I am appalled at the “leadership qualities” she shows when allowing shock jocks to call a cancer survivor a “cancer and a b****” :

    http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=sara+palin+bitch+cancer&hl=en&emb=0#

    The Anchorage Daily news reported this on January 25th, 2008 http://www.adn.com/opinion/story/293639.html

  10. David NH Says:

    One needs to read no further than the title to see how ignorant the author is. She was ‘Sarah Barracuda’ in high school, stupid. Miss Congeniality came later.

    So, you go on with your liberal drivel and distortions; it’s breathtakingly clear that you haven’t a clue as to what Palin’s true history is.

  11. Palin’s Bubble’s Bursting | Juneau Smog Says:

    [...] says she cut taxes as mayor of Wasilla, she raised the sales tax, making her hardly a tax cutter. When she left office as mayor of Wasilla she left the town $20 [...]

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