Friday, August 29, 2008

Palin Accused

The AP reports:

Before Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was tapped by Sen. John McCain to be his presidential running mate, she made a shrewd political move, using the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" issue to catapult herself onto the national political stage, critics say.

In her acceptance speech Friday, Palin described herself as a champion reformer who put a stop to the $400 million bridge project in Alaska in her effort to "end the abuses" of earmark spending in Congress.

With McCain at her side, Palin received thunderous applause when she mentioned the bridge during her acceptance speech in Dayton, Ohio.

"I have championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress," Palin said. "In fact, I told Congress, I told Congress 'thanks but no thanks' on that Bridge to Nowhere.

"If our state wanted a bridge, I said we'd build it ourselves," she said.

Palin pulled the plug on the project last fall. The bridge would have connected the city of Ketchikan to its airport on a nearby island in southeast Alaska. The only way to the airport now is by water taxis.

McCain, Washington's most outspoken critic of pork barrel spending, frequently uses the Alaska bridge project to illustrate what's wrong with out-of-control special interest spending in Washington.

Andrew Halcro, who ran as an independent and came in third to Palin in the 2006 gubernatorial election, said Palin sang a different tune on the campaign trail, an accusation backed up by news stories.

According to the Ketchikan Daily News, the bridge issue came up on Sept. 20, 2006, during an appearance the gubernatorial candidates made in Ketchikan.

"The money that's been appropriated for the project, it should remain available for a link, an access process as we continue to evaluate the scope and just how best to just get this done," Palin is quoted as saying in the paper's edition on Sept. 21, 2006. "This link is a commitment to help Ketchikan expand its access, to help this community prosper."

The newspaper quotes Palin as saying, "I think we're going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project."

Not only did she express support for the bridge but seemed less concerned than himself and Democrat Tony Knowles, who finished second, over the cost, Halcro said Saturday.

Halcro, who has a Web site and blog that frequently takes shots at Palin, said it took bloggers hardly any time at all to zero in on her comments about the bridge in Friday's speech.

"It took bloggers less than two or three hours to pick up on her comments in her speech yesterday in Dayton and say, 'Wait a second, this is not what she said,'" Halcro said. "She has obviously changed her position for political purposes."

Halcro said Palin used the bridge project for political purposes. She timed the release of the news to make a big splash on the East Coast, he said.

"This was a shrewd political move. The thought was that she would establish a name for herself," he said.

The history of the bridge goes back several years. Former Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, who had served as an Alaska senator for 22 years, wanted the bridge. Murkowski's longtime colleagues, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, pushed the project through Congress. They secured $452 million in a federal transportation bill for two bridges, the one in Ketchikan and the other in Anchorage.

With pressure mounting over pork projects, Congress stripped the earmark, requiring instead that some of the money be used for an airport. Alaska eventually received about half the money. Palin last fall directed that money to transportation projects statewide instead of for Ketchikan's bridge.

Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein, who campaigned for Knowles, said he was there in September 2006 when Palin visited Ketchikan with the other candidates and the bridge issue came up.

"She was asked about the bridge and she supported it," he said.

Then, last year she pulled the project without telling anyone in Ketchikan first, Weinstein said.

Palin "absolutely" used the issue for political purposes, Weinstein said, accusing the governor of playing to media outlets on the East Coast when she killed it.

"Look at how she communicated the decision to the community. It went east at 5 a.m. (Alaska time). That was the beginning of her effort to promote herself as a candidate for national office," he said.

Weinstein said at the time there was talk that Palin would challenge Stevens in this year's GOP primary.

Bill McAllister, Palin's press secretary, asked how could Palin have used the Bridge to Nowhere issue to propel herself into national politics when the overriding response to Friday's announcement was surprise?

"How could she have foreseen that she would be at this point now? Everybody is surprised by this development," McAllister said.

McAllister, who was a reporter for Anchorage television station KTUU during the 2006 campaign, said he remembers well Palin's position on the bridge project. She was lukewarm as a candidate and cooled to it as governor, he said.

"Of course when you become governor things come into much sharper focus than when you are a candidate," he said. "Then she is forced to pay very close attention to the fiscal realities of it."e

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