We Are All Wasillans Now

Sarah Palin was my mayor, and here is why she should not be vice president.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

I’m an Alaskan. I grew up in Wasilla. Sarah Palin was my mayor. She explored the idea of banning books at the library where my parents taught me how to read. There have been many interesting pieces of journalism introducing my gun-toting, moose burger-eating former neighbors to the rest of the country, and most have focused on how proud Alaskans are of their governor for making the surprise leap to the big leagues.

Sarah Palin’s story is compelling, but it is one that could happen only in Alaska, where the politics and the economy are simple and where it’s not difficult to spend a lifetime sheltered from the complexities and diversity of the outside world. I love my home state; I wouldn’t trade my childhood. I hope the Palin intrigue will translate into a boost in tourism that will further expand the state’s $5 billion budget surplus, so that when Gov. Palin returns to Juneau in November she can continue to serve Alaska’s interests with relative ease.

As reporters roam the streets of Wasilla, chatting with ecstatic neighbors, I feel compelled to offer another view by pointing out that John McCain has demonstrated an alarming lapse in judgment by choosing Sarah Palin as his party’s VP candidate. Choosing a running mate was his first, concrete test of judgment in the campaign process. Here’s why he failed.

My fellow Alaskans have vouched for Palin as a charming, interesting person. I can add that she is perfectly friendly. But now she is seeking a higher office, and so it must be noted that Sarah Palin, the friendly neighbor, is different from Sarah Palin, the executive.

The latter is a woman with intense agendas guided by a narrow set of culturally conservative values and extreme religious views. She believes that abstinence should be the primary form of sex education taught to teenagers; she believes that creationism should be taught alongside science in our schools; she is against a woman’s right to choose even in the cases of incest and rape; and her church believes gay and lesbian Americans can and, one assumes, should be corrected, redeemed from their deviant ways, by prayer (“pray away the gay” is their cheery slogan).

When she was mayor of my hometown, these extreme views came off as petty and irrelevant to people like me who did not share them. There seemed little cause for alarm. Most Alaskans are happy to live and let live; we don’t think of ourselves as Republican or Democrat. Besides, as mayor, it’s not like she had the power to wiretap our phones, amend our Constitution or send us to war.

But she did come dangerously close to using her power to ban books. Wasilla’s popular public librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, rightly objected, and the community backed the librarian. Books were never banned, though Palin did fire the librarian for not agreeing with her political views, then rescinded the firing after it was clear she’d made an unpopular decision. Palin’s behavior is revealing: In a state as isolated as Alaska, in a town as small as Wasilla, books are vital to the culture and to the education of its residents. The small town values I learned growing up included attending story hour at the public library. Those values most certainly did not include trying to ban books that the mayor’s church friends didn’t think other people should read. That is not the kind of reform we’re after.

It will be interesting to see what effect Gov. Palin’s penchant for “reform” will have on the McCain campaign.

There is no question that her convention speech, most of which she has been repeating endlessly at campaign events since then, make for good television and has entirely energized the Republican base. Who can blame them? They finally have a candidate who can shoot a gun, drink a beer AND speak in complete English sentences. This is real change for them.