JUNEAU, Alaska — Just a few months after returning from the presidential campaign trail, a weary Sarah Palin shot off a 1 a.m. email to top colleagues in her office.
Buried in ethics complaints that she deemed frivolous, the Alaska governor was feeling increasingly detached from her family. She faced mounting legal bills that only exacerbated the financial turmoil related to her family’s travel.
“I’m just beat down on this one. I am tired. The opponents have succeeded on the drive towards our personal bankruptcy, and have divided my family,” she wrote.
She finished the overnight email with a sobering conclusion: “One has to be single, wealthy, or corrupt to function in this political system.”
The relentless examination and subsequent exasperation lingered for months after Palin’s stint as a vice presidential candidate in 2008, and thousands of documents released by the state this week indicate that it ultimately drove her to leave political office.
Emails show that Palin remained engaged as governor in the issues of her day job, pushing for a natural gas pipeline, preparing speeches for civic groups, coordinating with the state’s chief lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and even helping arrange a reception for football players at the governor’s mansion. She said it was invigorating to directly speak to protesters holding a derogatory sign.
The treasurer of Palin’s political action committee, Tim Crawford, said Thursday: “We encourage everyone to read the emails. They show a governor hard at work for her state.”
Linda Young, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, said she believed Palin and other women like Hillary Clinton are more scrutinized than their male counterparts. She said it was clear that people were particularly focused on trying to expose Palin’s faults — a process made worse by what Young sees as a climate of combative politics.
“While I don’t agree with many of her political beliefs, I do think that it would be a lot more appropriate if male and female candidates were treated alike,” she said.
Young, who works to encourage women in politics, said politics can be difficult on families. But she said women can find a balance between maintaining their homes and offices at the same time.
The documents show Palin becoming increasingly distracted by the external issues tied to her newfound celebrity.
One of her political critics, trying to tout his own international experience in early 2009, parroted a “Saturday Night Live” line about Palin being able to see Russia from her house — a phrase that morphed from the governor’s initial comment that Russia was visible from part of Alaska.
“Why does he suggest I said i could see russia from my house? I said u can see russia from Alaska, in trying to explain the proximity,” she wrote to a staffer.
Palin then added in another email, “It’s going to be a long two years…”
It turned out that Palin wouldn’t last that long. She resigned six months later.
Alaska released some 24,000 pages of emails last year that focused on Palin’s time before she joined the Republican ticket with presidential nominee John McCain. This week the state released some 34,820 pages. The request for records was to cover from October 2008 until Palin’s resignation in July 2009, but the release also included emails from earlier in Palin’s term, which the current governor’s deputy chief of staff said were inadvertently omitted from last year’s release.
In the weeks leading to her resignation announcement, Palin didn’t tip off anyone about her plans, and she focused mainly on encouraging her communications staff to put news about the state on Twitter, approving tweets before they went out and making speeches.
Commissioners and the governor’s staff were notified of a conference call July 3. The email said: “The Governor will be making an announcement at 11:00am. You are encouraged to call in to listen at 1-800-315-6338, code 0703.” Palin announced that day that she intended to resign.
In an email at 11:42 a.m., she wrote: “I love you all – I truly do. This will be good. Thank you for your support!”
In her last few months of office, Palin was clearly irked by the ongoing media coverage she faced. She said the national media had set their sights on Alaska because of her position as governor, citing questions by a CBS reporter about an effort by some Prince William Sound fishermen to have the state forgive all or part of the outstanding loans the state had given them using their settlement funds from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill as collateral.
“This is bizarre. It’s also an indication of nat’l media looking at anything to sensationalize (negatively) about Alaska right now … unfortunately bc of who’s in the Gov’s chair,” she wrote in a Jan. 26, 2009, email to aides.
A couple months later, she was upset that a magazine had found her during a charity event at a Juneau grocery store.
“Any idea how they knew to find me at Fred Meyer yesterday while I sold Girl scout cookies? The scout leaders wouldn’t have told them,” she wrote. A lawyer responded that she was probably being followed, but it was later discovered that Palin’s planned appearance was included in an article in the Juneau Empire.
Palin was particularly irked by ethics complaints that she considered excessive and frivolous, and many of them were eventually dismissed. More than a dozen came in after she was named McCain’s running mate in 2008 — including one accusing her of having a conflict of interest because of the brand of clothing she wore.
Palin has said the ethics complaints proved to be a distraction, and that was a major factor in her decision to resign during her first term. A complaint related to the family’s travel and the subsequent internal inquiries were particularly problematic.
In a May 2009 email with then-Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, Palin showed frustration with scrutiny about her and her family’s travel and the financial cost of ethics charges. Parnell invited Palin to a police memorial ceremony, but she was unable to attend because she was in Juneau.
“I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I’m condemned and scrutinized for not being here enough,” she wrote.
The governor said she paid out of pocket to repay travel by her family, which was “based on bogus accusations that I traveled too much in the past,” and said she paid back taxes for not being in the governor’s mansion “enough” during renovations.
“This Juneau situation cost Todd and me about $35,000 recently. The double standard applied to me and my spouse keeps me from freely traveling as other govs did,” she wrote.
Despite it all, Palin’s aides remained fiercely loyal to her. Randy Ruaro sent an email in July 2009 simply entitled “Thank you.”
“I have been asked several times in the last few years why I work so hard. It’s very, very easy to work hard for someone when you respect and believe in them,” he wrote.
There were relatively few emails during the campaign with McCain, in September-November 2008.
Sharon Leighow, a spokeswoman for Parnell, who’s now the governor, said Palin’s chief of staff communicated with her mainly by phone during that period. Palin’s Anchorage office director, Kris Perry, also traveled with the governor during that time, serving as a conduit to the staff, Leighow said.