Palin flap on Alaskan separatism reveals media double standard
It looks like someone spoke too soon, accusing GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin of having been a member of the Alaska Independence Party. Now it turns out that she only attended the party's 1994 convention, and that her husband joined. So the Republicans get to proclaim "false alarm!" Was the overstatement a strategically-leaked strawman in the first place—a spin-control inoculation by Palin's own allies? Because the truth of the Palins' links to the separatist movement would have been newsworthy without the overshoot. Now, we don't have a problem with Alaskan independence per se—although we fear it could just be a scam by the oil and resource industries to weasel out of federal environmental laws. But more to the point—can you imagine the outcry if Michelle Obama had been a member of the Republic of New Afrika?
Details from the New York Times, Sept. 2:
A Palin Joined Alaskan Third Party, Just Not Sarah Palin
In the mid-1990s, the Alaskan Independence Party was experiencing a boom of sorts. A governor had been elected on its ticket in 1990, when the party was not even a decade old. And membership was swelling.
Among the new recruits was Todd Palin, whose wife, Sarah, would later become governor of Alaska. The Palins attended the party's convention in their hometown, Wasilla, in 1994, according to party officials, where the party called for a revote on statehood and a draft constitution for an independent Republic of Alaska. Mr. Palin joined the party.
Ms. Palin remained a Republican and never joined the Alaskan Independence Party, but returned to its convention in 2006 to speak as candidate for governor. After she had been elected, she recorded a video greeting that was played at the party convention this year. "Good luck on a successful and inspiring convention," she said. "Keep up the good work, and God bless you."
Now that she is the Republican nominee for vice president — for a campaign whose motto is "Country first" — the couple’s interaction with the Alaskan Independence Party has gotten attention because of its reputation as a secessionist group.
Alaskan Independence Party officials released a statement Monday saying that Ms. Palin had been a member for two years, from 1994 to 1996, information included in reports in The New York Times and other news outlets. In Internet videos of recent party meetings, other party officials can be seen boasting of Ms. Palin's past membership.
On Tuesday, though, the party's chairwoman, Lynette Clark, said the earlier statement was false. Ms. Clark said that she had based it on information another party member had given her, but that a review of the records showed only that Ms. Palin had attended the 1994 conference.
Ms. Clark added that while the review confirmed Todd Palin as a member, it did not indicate that Ms. Palin had been one.
On Wednesday, Ms. Clark released a corrected statement, saying, in part, "I, foolishly, repeated and accepted as fact what an officer of this membership shared with myself, and husband Dexter Clark, over a year ago."
"I humbly apologize to Governor Palin, and to both national and local press and media," she added.
Ms. Palin has been registered as a Republican since May 1982, according to the State Division of Elections. Mr. Palin registered as a member of the Alaskan Independence Party in 1995, remaining a member for all but two months of the next seven years, until he registered as an undeclared voter in July 2002.
The McCain campaign has described the Palins as "proud Americans" and called reports of her membership in the independence party "a smear."
The Alaskan Independence Party's Web site, akip.org, which includes the motto "Alaska First — Alaska Always" in its banner, describes party members as seeking "a range of solutions to the conflicts between federal and local authority," including "advocacy for state's rights, through a return to territorial status, all the way to complete independence and nationhood status for Alaska." It calls for repatriation of lands held by the federal government "to the state and people of Alaska," as well as, among other issues, the right to home-school children and the privatization of government services.
Ms. Clark objected to descriptions of her party as secessionist, saying it advocates "states' rights" and "state sovereignty."
Ms. Clark said she interpreted Ms. Palin's attendance at the 1994 convention as reflecting an interest in hearing a variety of perspectives. "Her heart is very Alaskan," she said, "and we have Alaskan issues."
Jean Craciun, a political consultant in Alaska, said it would not be hard to believe that Ms. Palin had been a member of the independence party, because polls show that people in Alaska often confuse the party with "independent minded."
Ms. Palin's political philosophy is also often compared to that of Walter J. Hickel, the former Alaska governor and interior secretary in the Nixon administration who was re-elected governor on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket in 1990. Mr. Hickel, a big backer of Ms. Palin, re-registered as a Republican in 1994.
In her recorded address to the party's convention this year, Ms. Palin said: "I share your party's vision of upholding the constitution of our great state. My administration remains focused on reining in government growth so individual liberty and opportunity can expand. I know you agree with that."