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Context of '2000: Wasilla Mayor Hires Federal Lobbyist to Represent Town'

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Sarah Palin, taking the oath of office as mayor, 1997.Sarah Palin, taking the oath of office as mayor, 1997. [Source: New York Times]Wasilla, Alaska, City Council member Sarah Palin becomes Mayor of Wasilla after running a groundbreakingly negative political campaign (see Mid and Late 1996). In her term, she focuses on town development and personal politics. Palin supporters will say that she helps Wasilla develop from a small backwater into a fast-growing suburb, almost doubling its population during her term and bringing in large “box stores” such as Target. Critics will say that she leads the overdevelopment and exploitation of a town that was largely homesteaded farmland before her arrival. Palin weathers a brief attempt at a recall, in part because of town leaders’ fears of retaliation: She quickly becomes known for using her position for exacting revenge against her personal and political enemies. Council member Anne Kilkenny, a Democrat, will later remember Palin’s efforts to get books banned from the Wasilla library. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Kilkenny will recall. Town librarian Mary Ellen Emmons, later described by former mayor John C. Stein as “aghast” at Palin’s requests, resists Palin’s efforts at what Kilkenny will call “censorship,” and Palin promptly fires her. After residents protest, Palin relents and allows Emmons to retake the position, and drops her call to ban the library books; in late 1996, Palin tells a local reporter that her talk of banning books was merely “rhetorical.” Once in office, Palin demands that many of Stein’s supporters and appointees in city government resign, an unprecedented event in town history. She forces the public works director, city planner, museum director, and others to resign, and fires Police Chief Irl Stambaugh, who will lose a wrongful termination lawsuit in 2000. (Stambaugh will later say that part of the reason why Palin fires him is because she tells him “the NRA [National Rifle Association, a powerful Palin supporter] didn’t like me and that they wanted change.” Palin also informs Stambaugh that he “stared” at her during their meetings and attempted to be “physically intimidating.”) Palin packs city government with figures from the area Republican Party, sometimes including wives and relatives, and responds to a question about running city government without experienced government personnel by saying: “It’s not rocket science. It’s $6 million and 53 employees.” She attempts to replace two council members with persons she knows, though the mayor does not have that legal power. She issues an edict forbidding city employees from talking to anyone in the press without her authorization. Victoria Naegele, the editor of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, will recall: “It was just things you don’t ever associate with a small town. It was like we were warped into real politics instead of just, ‘Do you like Joe or Mary for the job?’ It was a strange time and [the Frontiersman] came out very harshly against her.” Going against her stance on cutting taxes and restricting spending, Palin forces through a half-cent raise in the local sales tax to pay for a $15 million sports complex that hosts, among other local teams, a junior league hockey team, but the city will later have to pay more than $1.3 million to settle an ownership dispute over the site. And again going against her stated distaste for taking federal money, she makes frequent trips to Washington to lobby for federal funds for local rail projects and a mental health center, among other initiatives. In 1999, Palin will become president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/23/2006; New York Times, 9/2/2008; Time, 9/2/2008; Seattle Times, 9/7/2008; Washington Post, 9/14/2008] Palin will use her second and final term as mayor as a springboard to higher office (see January 2000 - 2002).

Entity Tags: Mary Ellen Emmons, Anne Kilkenny, National Rifle Association, Alaska Conference of Mayors, Sarah Palin, John C. Stein, Irl Stambaugh, Victoria Naegele

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

Sarah Palin, after a tumultuous first term as mayor of Wasilla (see Late 1996 - 1999), easily beats her opponent, former mayor John C. Stein, 909-292. (The election was actually held on October 5, 1999, but Palin does not officially begin her second term until early in 2000.) One of her second-term campaign promises is to cut spending by cutting her own salary; she indeed cuts her salary from $68,000 to $64,000, but adds a new employee, city administrator John Cramer, to the payroll, dramatically increasing expenditures. Cramer has close ties to powerful Republican lawmaker Lyda Green, and Green endorsed Palin for the mayorality, though she will withdraw that support when Palin later runs for governor. Ironically, Cramer works to ease tensions in Wasilla during Palin’s second and final term. Palin’s deputy mayor Dave Chappel will later say: “When I first met Sarah, I would say Sarah was a Republican, with the big R, and that’s it. As she developed politically, she began to see beyond the R and look at the whole picture. She matured.” Palin also hires a lobbyist to represent Wasilla in the nation’s capital (see 2000). She fires Cramer as one of her final acts as mayor in 2002. When her stepmother-in-law, Faye Palin, declares her candidacy to succeed her daughter-in-law, Palin, citing Faye Palin’s support for abortion rights and her status as unaffiliated (i.e. not a Republican), refuses to support her, instead throwing her support to council ally and religious conservative Dianne Keller. [City of Wasilla, 10/5/1999; Anchorage Daily News, 10/23/2006; New York Times, 9/2/2008; Seattle Times, 9/7/2008] A former city council member will later recall the 2002 Keller-Palin election as contentious, largely because of the controversy over abortion; “People were writing BABYKILLER on Faye’s campaign signs just a few days before the election,” the council member will recall. [Time, 9/2/2008]
Leaves Wasilla with Increased Taxation, Large Debt - During her two terms, Palin increases general government expenditures by over a third, increases the operating budget by over a third after adjusting for inflation, increases the tax burden on Wasilla residents and businesses by 25 percent after adjusting for inflation, reduces property taxes in favor of a regressive sales tax, and while inheriting a budget with zero debt, leaves Wasilla with an indebtness of over $23 million. Keller, who will continue as mayor through 2008, will say that much of the debt and tax increases are due to Wasilla’s growth during Palin’s tenure. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/31/2008]
On to Governorship - Palin will lose her first attempt at gaining statewide office, coming in second in the 2002 Republican primary for lieutenant governor. She will not succeed in persuading Governor Frank Murkowski (R-AK) to appoint her to complete his term in the US Senate, a seat which will go to Murkowski’s daughter Lisa (R-AK) instead. In 2003, Governor Murkowski will appoint Palin to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. She will leave the commission in 2004 over claims that it is behaving unethically, and will defeat Murkowski in 2006, becoming governor of Alaska. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Steve Ellis, Sarah Palin, Lisa Murkowski, John Cramer, Lyda Green, Frank Murkowski, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Dave Chappel, Dianne Keller, John C. Stein, Faye Palin

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Domestic Propaganda

Early in her second term as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (see January 2000 - 2002), Sarah Palin hires a lobbyist, Steven W. Silver of Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh. The decision to hire a lobbyist is unprecedented in the history of the town. Silver secures $26.9 million in federal funds for Wasilla, though Palin campaigned against “wasteful government spending” in her runs for mayor, and as a state and national figure will campaign against “federal earmarks” and such spending. Silver is a close political ally of US Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense will later say: “She certainly wasn’t shy about putting the old-boy network to use to bring home millions of dollars. She’s a little more savvy to the ways of Washington than she’s let on.” [Washington Post, 9/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Sarah Palin, Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh, Ted Stevens, Steve Ellis, Steven W. Silver

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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