Beautiful, isn't she?
Sarah Palin looks like someone I'd like to have a couple of beers with. Down-to-Earth. Friendly.
I lived in Ketchikan, Alaska, from 1999 - 2009. I was there when she ran for governor, and I wanted to vote for her. As a feminist I loved her. Outspoken. Powerful. Yet, still relatable.
I couldn't vote for her, of course. She didn't stand for anything I held dear. But privately I was pulling for her. I wanted to see her succeed.
She understood Alaskans. She held town hall meetings throughout the state during her gubernatorial campaign. No small feat when you keep in mind that Alaska is huge, and its population is spread amongst countless tiny hamlets, many of which are inaccessible by road.
Southeast Alaska faces obstacles and misunderstanding at every turn by the rest of the nation. Some examples:
- Jobs depend on the declining timber industry and fisheries that face tougher regulations every year. The Lower 48 seems to think it's some sort of free-for-all.
- Bozos like Greenpeace come charging in when the weather is nice (Ketchikan gets roughly 160 inches of rain per year) and pass out flyers to locals telling them how things ought to be.
- My husband and I hunted in unimaginably remote areas. We saw declining deer populations due to wolf overpopulation. It seemed we found fresh carcasses everywhere we went. The wolves (at the time, at least) were severely throwing the ecosystem off balance. (Remember the wolf control controversy?)
Now let's talk about The Bridge. You know the one. The Bridge to Nowhere.
Does the media ever get a story entirely right? No. Especially in situations like this where they can't possibly have all the information.
I'm not going to get it right, either, but I was there and I'd like to flesh out the bits I know to be true. The Bridge to Nowhere became such a media circus and an apparently flagrant example of pork barrel spending that Sarah Palin's utter Judas moment was lost in the shuffle.
That's why I want to write this article. Ms. Palin has become a much larger player and this story deserves to be told. I'm not out to get her. To be honest with you I never gave two craps about the bridge, personally. As a regular citizen it had little impact on my life. But I know people who did give a crap, and who had a lot invested in the outcome of the thing. Good people.
It's all there, if you look. Unfortunately nobody is looking anymore.
Let's start with some basic information about Ketchikan:
- With a population of approximately 13,000 residents, Ketchikan is the 5th largest city in Alaska.
- At the time of the bridge fiasco Ketchikan was headquarters to at least two major Alaskan businesses: First Bank and Northern Sales Company of Alaska. Many other businesses call Ketchikan home. The largest hospital in the area, Ketchikan General Hospital, provides critical Medivac service to many surrounding communities which are inaccessible by road. The Alaska State Troopers provide police support to the same communities. A sizable branch of the University of Alaska is located in Ketchikan.
- Ketchikan itself is inaccessible by road. The only ways to arrive are via airplane or boat. Not a quick boat trip, either, but a multi-day ferry with beds and restaurants. Imagine the obstacles local businesses face bringing in product and distributing it to their customers on surrounding islands.
- Ketchikan is located in the midst of the Tongass National Forest (a subtropical rainforest). Understandably there are countless restrictions to building on National Forest property so local businesses also face the odd problem of space restrictions on such a huge island.
- Ketchikan's airport (the second largest in Southeast Alaska) is located across a narrow channel on Gravina Island. To get there you must cross the channel, in the rain, hauling your luggage up and down steep ramps. Locals don't mind, they're used to it. The bridge was never about getting locals more conveniently from point A to point B.
Of these, 46% arrived by air. 49% arrived by cruise ship. I worked one block from the cruise ship dock for nine years, so I can tell you firsthand that this is an obscene number of people. Have you ever been close to a cruise ship? One of those mega liners? We were easily seeing four of those per day in the summer, sometimes up to six.
The above statistic means that nearly the same number were arriving by air. Do you know who those folks were? Sport fishermen, the rich guys on a summer getaway to their favorite lodge. Do you suppose those fellows are excited about lugging their equipment up and down steep ramps in the rain? Nope. Sort of bad for business, isn't it?
Nobody mentions that when they talk about the bridge to "Nowhere." Nor do they mention the fact that it had to be built so high because the cruise ships / commercial fishing boats / giant yachts had to pass beneath it.
Still, that wasn't part of Ms. Palin's betrayal. She blatantly betrayed the local business people who counted on her promise to build the bridge so they could have room to expand.
Quoted directly from Wikipedia:
In September 2006, during her campaign for Governor, Sarah Palin visited Ketchikan to express her support for the Gravina Island Bridge project. At a public forum, Palin held up a pro-bridge t-shirt designed by a Ketchikan artist, Mary Ida Henrikson. The legend on the shirt was "Nowhere Alaska 99901," referencing the buzzword of "Bridge to Nowhere" and the primary zip code of Ketchikan. In her public comments, referring to her own residence in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, she said: "OK, you’ve got Valley trash standing here in the middle of nowhere. I think we’re going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project" in response to an insult expressed by the state Senate president, Ben Stevens.
In October 2006, when asked, "Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?" she answered: "Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now – while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist." Later that month, at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Wasilla, Alaska, Democratic candidate Tony Knowles criticized Palin for supporting the Knik Arm Bridge, the Gravina Island Bridge, and a road north out of Juneau instead of rebuilding the Parks Highway. The Ketchikan Daily News noted that, of the gubernatorial candidates, "Only Palin is consistent in support all of the projects."
~Time passed and she decided to sell us out to further her career.~
Quoted from the same Wikipedia article:
On August 29, 2008, when introduced as Republican presidential nominee John McCain's running mate, Governor Palin told the crowd: "I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere" — a line that garnered big applause but upset political leaders in Ketchikan. Palin's campaign coordinator in the city, Republican Mike Elerding, remarked, "She said 'thanks but no thanks,' but they kept the money." Ketchikan's Democratic Mayor Bob Weinstein also criticized Palin for using the term bridge to nowhere, which she had said was insulting when she was in favor of the bridge.
Although Palin was originally a main proponent of the bridge, McCain–Palin television advertisements claimed that Palin "stopped the Bridge to Nowhere." These claims have been widely questioned or described as misleading in several newspapers across the political spectrum. Howard Kurtz called this a "whopper," writing: "She endorsed the remote project while running for governor in 2006, claimed to be an opponent only after Congress killed its funding the next year and has used the $223 million provided for it for other state ventures." Newsweek, commenting on Palin's "astonishing pivot," remarked: "Now she talks as if she always opposed the funding."
While discussing the Gravina Island Bridge during an ABC News interview that aired on September 12, 2008, Charles Gibson made the following comment: "but it's now pretty clearly documented. You supported that bridge before you opposed it. You were wearing a t-shirt in the 2006 campaign, showed your support for the bridge to nowhere." Palin interrupted Gibson and insisted, "I was wearing a t-shirt with the zip code of the community that was asking for that bridge. Not all the people in that community even were asking for a $400 million or $300 million bridge."
Many media groups in the U.S. noted that Palin changed her position regarding the bridges, and concluded that she exaggerated her claim that she stopped the proposals from going through. According to the Los Angeles Times, for instance, while seeking votes for her governorship race, Palin told Ketchikan residents that she backed the "bridge to nowhere"; as governor, she spent the money elsewhere and moved ahead with a $26-million road to the nonexistent bridge. (emphasis mine)
After canceling the bridge, Palin's administration spent more than $25 million to build the Gravina Island Highway, which would have connected with the proposed bridge. According to Alaskan state officials, the road project went ahead because the money came from the federal government, and would otherwise have had to be returned. Because "no one seems to use" this road, it has been called the "road to nowhere" by CNN, many local Alaskans, and hundreds of other media sources.
CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau took a helicopter over the road. "There's no one on this road," she said. "It kind of just curves around then it just stops. That's where the bridge was supposed to pick up." Boudreau spoke to Mike Elerding, Palin's former campaign coordinator. When asked if he felt the road was "a waste of taxpayer money," he responded, "Without the bridge, yeah."My question to you, Palin supporters, is simple: What has the "Valley Trash" promised you, and how much do you think it would take for her to sell you out, too? -Kim