ANCHORAGE – Ed Schultz, the nationally syndicated radio host, came to Alaska looking to find out about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
The North Dakota-based progressive talker got an earful.
What Schultz heard is that, despite all the talk about Palin’s 80 percent approval rating, plenty of Alaskans have qualms about putting their state’s governor a heartbeat away from the presidency.
“The Republicans have taken this election and turned it into an ‘American Idol’ episode,” said Terry Hamm, one of more than 500 people from the Anchorage area who showed up for the town hall meeting Schultz hosted Saturday night with the help of radio station KUDO-Alaska’s Progressive Voice. “They took the pretty girl and made her the candidate.”
“There are a lot of smart, capable women in the Republican party that John McCain could have chosen as his running-mate: (Maine Senator) Olympia Snowe, (Maine Senator) Susan Collins,” continued Hamm, as she waited in line to speak at the event on the University of Alaska-Anchorage campus. “But Sarah Palin isn’t one of them. She’s not ready to be vice president, let alone president.”
That was the tenor of the talk Saturday night, at a “Come Talk about Sarah Palin” event where Schultz heard the other side of Alaska’s response to the governor’s addition to the Republican ticket.
Appearing on a day when a crowd estimated at 1,500 showed up for an “Alaskan Women Reject Palin” rally outside an Anchorage hall where the governor was speaking to her backers, Schultz heard a litany of complaints about the Republican nominee for vice president.
When the discussion turned to the “Troopergate” scandal, which has focused attention on Palin’s dismissal of the state’s top law enforcement officer after he refused to fire her former brother-in-law, Schultz asked: “If it is proven that the governor abused her position, how does the state respond to that?” asked Schultz.
“Impeachment!” responded members of the crowd.
Of course, that’s not the universal sentiment in Alaska.
There’s no question that Palin has many fans here — including otherwise apolitical Alaskans who simply appreciated the $1,200 “energy rebate” deposits that Palin engineered and that began showing up in their bank accounts Friday.
But, while there is definitely a good deal of home-state pride in the nomination of the governor for the vice presidency, there is as well a fair measure of honest trepidation about whether this particular Alaskan is the right person for the job.
When Palin returned to Alaska after accepting the Republican nomination and making a series of high-profile campaign appearances with McCain, most of the attention was focused on the fact that the governor was finally sitting down for an interview with the anchor of a nationally-televised news program – an uninspired session with Charlie Gibson of ABC News – and rallying her supporters.
What was not so well reported was that, outside the controlled events at which Palin appeared, her critics rallied in significant numbers.
Many Palin protesters came to show support of the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Others showed up to raise concerns about Palin’s hard-line conservative stances on social issues and to express their fears about whether she would, as vice president and potentially president, blur the lines of separation between church and state.
Even the state’s largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, weighed in on that issue, editorializing that, “While it’s exciting to have Alaska’s popular governor on the Republican presidential ticket – and a woman to boot – Americans can’t ignore how Sarah Palin might steer the country on divisive social issues.”
The editorial continued, “Sarah Palin is asking Americans to elect a vice president who is an extreme social conservative. She opposes abortion rights. She favors the teaching of creationism. She preaches abstinence-only sex education. She is open to the possibility of banning books from public libraries. She opposes gay marriage. She personally opposes benefits for gay partners of public employees.”
“(If) she becomes president,” the newspaper warned, “Palin will have plenty of time and a national platform to promote measures that turn her personal stands on social issues into mandates for all Americans. Religious conservatives may insist that she do so. Will she? Her past statements suggest she would.”
Still other critics suggested that Palin, who was elected governor of Alaska less than two years ago, simply is not ready to take the nation’s No. 2 job.
“(In) no way does her year-and-a-half as governor of Alaska qualify her to be vice president or president of the United States,” wrote veteran Alaskan journalist Dermot Cole in his Fairbanks News-Miner newspaper column after Plain was picked.
“I may be proven wrong, but the decision announced by McCain strikes me as reckless,” added Cole. “She is not prepared to be the next president should something happen to McCain.”
That was certainly the sentiment of those who showed up for Ed Schultz’s Saturday night gathering.
“Sarah Palin would serve with a 72-year-old man. If something were to happen to John McCain, she would be in the Oval Office,” said Terry Hamm. “She has no business being there.”
Schultz was struck by the intensity of the Alaskan concern about Palin.
“We all know people in Alaska who have good things to say about Sarah Palin. We’ve heard from them.” explained the radio host. “But it turns out that there are a lot of people who are as worried as the rest of us are about Sarah Palin becoming vice president.”
The Ed Schultz Show will air the Anchorage town hall meeting Monday on progressive talk-radio stations nationwide. For more information and podcasts, visit www.bigeddieradio.com