Since her sudden resignation from the Alaskan governor’s office on July 3, Sarah Palin has created a constitutional crisis that could cost state legislators hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money to resolve. Palin appointed Lt. Governor Sean Parnell to succeed her, and tapped Lt. Gen. Craig Campbell, the commissioner of the Alaskan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, to fill Parnell’s post. However, the state legislature had already chosen someone to succeed Parnell in case of an emergency: State Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt. To resolve the conflict Palin created, the legislature will almost certainly have to call a special session, an event that could require at least $200,000 to administer.
The legislative sources heaped scorn on Palin for saddling them with a new and potentially expensive crisis while she made plans to pursue lucre and celebrity in the lower 48.
“Honestly, Sarah’s resignation was complete bullshit and I’m saying that as a Republican,” a Republican political veteran working in the legislature told me. “In all my years in politics, nobody has left Alaska in such a mess. Everyone here is just shocked.” The Republican added, “There’s no choice but to hold a special session. The conflict has to be handled in an orderly way.”
“Sarah [Palin] just out of the blue picked a new person [for lieutenant governor] without even conceding that this was a new pick,” said Democratic Rep. Les Gara. “She has offered no explanation for doing this, which is like not turning in your homework and not saying why you didn’t turn it in.”
“Nobody really understands why she tried to appoint Campbell, but nobody understands why she resigned either,” Ethan Berkowitz, the former Democratic minority leader in the Alaskan House of Representatives, told me. “That’s just Sarah—she’s always been this way.”
The legislators said they would also use the special session to recover $29 million in federal stimulus grants Palin rejected in May. At the time, Gara and other lawmakers accused Palin of rejecting the money to further her national political ambitions. “I’m worried that the governor has taken this sort of national political stance, which is that she’s going to be the opposite of Barack Obama on everything,” Gara said in May. Now that Palin is on her way out, a bipartisan consensus seems to have emerged on retrieving the funding, which would enable the state to fulfill weatherization and energy-efficiency priorities.
According to Gara, if the legislature did not call a special session to restore the stimulus grants, the state would not be able to recover the money until January, when the legislature returns to its normal duties. “The mess continues,” he said with a tone of resignation.
In order to convene a special session in Juneau, the only state capital in America that is not road accessible, the state must pay to fly legislators and their staff into the city, then provide each person $200 a day in per diem money. In June 2007, when the legislature called a special session to authorize long-term funding for Senior Care, a social program for the elderly, the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency estimated that a three-day session would cost $125,000 if it were held in Juneau. If the session were held in Anchorage, the agency’s estimate ballooned to $297,000 for three days. (A monthlong session would have cost around $800,000 in Juneau and $1 million in Anchorage, according to the agency.)
Because both the House and Senate chambers in Juneau are undergoing renovation, the session to confirm Alaska’s new lieutenant governor and recover the stimulus money would have to be held in a different location, or another city altogether—Anchorage is one of many possibilities. If past estimates hold firm, the change in venue would make the session more costly to Alaskan taxpayers. Berkowitz predicted the session would cost “at the very least $200,000.”
While the legislature scrambles to resolve the crisis, Palin has accepted an invitation from the Republican Women Federated of Simi Valley to speak at a private gala at the Ronald Reagan Library on August 8. Media will not be allowed to observe the speech, which will be her first paid lecture since leaving office.
Palin is also poised to collect somewhere between $4 million and $15 million from HarperCollins to publish her political memoirs, an offer she may not have been able to accept had she remained in the governor’s mansion. “Let me peek out there and see if there’s an open door somewhere,” Palin remarked recently to a reporter from the Washington Times. “And if there’s even a little crack of light, I’ll hope to plow through it.”
While Palin chases lucrative opportunities, she has apparently left Alaskan taxpayers to pick up her tab. Some of her former Republican allies are not sad to see her go. “Sarah said she can’t be out of here fast enough and we agree,” said the Republican legislative source. “When you use Alaska to make money for yourself and leave the state, people here don’t take that lightly. Honestly, she’s hurt us enough.”