The state of Alaska has released 24,199 printed pages of emails from Sarah Palin's tenure as governor, ranging from her 2006 inauguration to the 2008 presidential campaign. And for the most part, the media and the public have found themselves shocked--to learn how pedestrian the trove turns out to be. "No big revelations," read a Reuters headline. "The bombshell that wasn't," sighed Yahoo! News.
Indeed, a large portion of the emails seems to confirm already-well-known Palin lore: her feuds with the Alaska state senate president, her association with a controversial pastor. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the emails was submitted by news organizations way back in 2008, leaving some political journalists to question whether they have any news relevance now. "Sincere question. Sarah Palin is not a candidate, not an elected official, not a party official. Why do we care about her emails again?" tweeted the Washington Post's Greg Sargent. The answer, of course, is because she's Sarah Palin, and buried deep in the otherwise bland correspondence, some fascinating nuggets can be found, like her stances on climate change and gay rights (not as firm as some Tea Partiers might prefer.) From her praise for President Obama to her jokes with George W. Bush, read about the juiciest emails.
1. Kind Words for Obama
In an email dated August 4, 2008, from her Yahoo account—just three weeks before joining Sen. John McCain's ticket—Palin wrote that Obama had given a "great speech" in Michigan, and praised his mention of Alaska. "We need to take advantage of this a[nd] write a statement saying he's right on," she wrote. In a follow-up email, Palin added that Obama "did say 'yay' to our pipeline. Pretty cool. Wrong candidate."
2. Climate Change a 'Top' Issue
Although she would later dismiss climate change as "junk science," Palin didn't always feel that way. In an email dated Sept. 15, 2008, she wrote that "climate change is the top issue for our state." Later in her political career, Palin distanced herself from such a stance, at one point calling climate science "junk."
3. Her Own Controversial Pastor
Obama has Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Palin has Pastor John Hagee. McCain rejected an endorsement from Hagee, an avowedly anti-Semitic zealot, in 2008, citing his hate speech as the reason. But in a May 3, 2007 email, Palin asked her scheduler to see if she could attend one of Hagee's events at the Juneau Christian Center in June. When Palin learned she couldn't make it, she wrote back, "I should try to get back to juno for this one."
4. Hesitant on Social Issues
Palin is well known for her social conservative bona fides, so it's fairly shocking to see that in an email dated March 16, 2007, she wrote that she was "torn" about endorsing a ballot question outlawing benefits for same-sex couples, supported by the Alaska Family Coalition. "My belief is administration should NOT attempt to sway the outcome of ballot props … my belief that we weren't supposed to try to sway the vote once it's in the hands of the people," she wrote.
5. Denying Bristol's Pregnancy...While Bristol Is Pregnant
When rumors began circulating that her 18-year-old daughter Bristol was pregnant in April 2008, the hands-on Mama Grizzly scoffed at the news, writing that the rumors are "pretty pathetic." (PDF) What's more, she blamed Alaska state senate president Lyda Green and her staff for brewing lies: "Flippin' Unbelievable. Wouldn't you think they'd be afraid of being proved wrong when they rumor around the building like that?…hopefully it'll be another reason why reporters and the public can't trust that odd group of strange people." The media has found no email records of Palin rescinding her accusations after learning that Bristol would indeed give birth to her son in December 2008—eight months after the "rumors" began circulating.
6. VP Buzz and Dubya
Palin's time as governor reveals she had a habit of forwarding messages to her staff from people supportive of her vice-presidential bid. One such message came from George W. Bush. "The [president] and I spoke about military, [including] Track's deployment and how Iraq is a different place than it was a year ago," Palin wrote to her chief of staff Mike Mizich, referring to an encounter she had with the then-president in early August. "He also spoke about (and we joked about) VP buzz."
7. Asking God for Budget Help
Palin asked for divine guidance when she was faced with a group of Republicans demanding she make budget reductions. "I have been praying for wisdom on this ... God will have to show me what to do on the people's budget because I don't yet know the right path ... He will show me though," she wrote in an email to Tom Irwin, a close adviser and senior official at the Alaskan Department of Natural Resources. Palin has referred to the oil pipeline she supported as "God's will."
8. Deflecting the Early Trig Rumors
In the 2008 presidential election, rumors circulated that Trig Palin was actually the son of Sarah's daughter Bristol, despite any evidence to support the claim. Emails show the rumor started long before that, with Palin sending an email over a week before Trig's birth blaming a political opponent for the rumor. "Sounds like The Bristol rumor was started and continues via Lyda's office," she wrote to staff and her husband. Lyda Green, a Republican, was senate president at the time and a frequent opponent of Sarah's. "Bristol does want it squashed — we just don't know how to do so without making it a bigger issue. . . . I figured it was them or [former Palin staffer John] Bitney," she wrote. Several weeks late Palin emailed staffers again about the rumor, saying that Trig's doctor mentioned it and that Bristol received two calls from friends who'd heard it.
9. Ghostwriting a Pageant Letter
After a letter to the editor in the Anchorage Daily News questioned her absence at the 2008 Miss Alaska pageant, Palin wrote to three staffers in July 2008 "looking for someone to correct the letter writer's goofy comments, but don't want the letter to ADN in response to come from me." The easiest solution, of course, was to write a letter pretending to be someone else, and refer to herself in the third person: "When I first asked the Gov. Palin if she was ever Miss Alaska, (as Ms. Spry stated), our Governor replied, 'Nope, a mere Miss Congeniality' ... about 100 years ago it seems now.'" She continues writing in her own defense that "in this situation it was especially important to have Governor Palin...travel to Fairbanks that evening between the weekend's statewide Governor's Annual Committee Picnics and meet with seven US Congressman who were touring ANWR." She also made sure to point out that her husband, "First Gentleman Todd Palin," had spent "two days judging the event."
10. Courting BP's Tony Hayward—After Catastrophic Alaska Oil Spill
Apparently the the March 2006 Prudhoe Bay oil spill, the worst in Alaska's state history, was no big fuss to Governor Palin. She was pleading with BP's Tony Hayward to support her Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which proposed to build a multibillion-dollar pipeline to deliver natural gas from Alaska's North Slope fields to the mainland U.S. But even BP refused to back the plan, believing it was a bad deal.
11. Criticizing Republican 'Party Politics' Weeks Before Joining McCain's Camp
20 days before Palin swept into the national spotlight as John McCain's 2008 running mate, she dissed her own party and even expressed reservations about attending the Republican National Convention. The speech Palin eventually gave at the convention, accepting the vice-presidential nomination, ended up stealing the show and turned her into a star. But in early August 2008, she was making plans to "keep the trip short." "I don't need staff besides Kris—we need to remember the GOP, for the most part... especially the AK machine... has not had any support or assistance provided our administration so our time and efforts will continue to be spent on serving Alaskans, not party politics," Palin wrote to her scheduler, Janice Mason, and close aide Kris Perry.
12. 'Toxic' Relationship With Alaska State Senate President
Despite the national attention, things were not so smooth on the Alaska political front. Palin's emails back up revelations from former aide Frank Bailey's memoir Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin that her relationship with State Senate President Lyda Green—a fellow Republican—had turned sour. In an email dated May 8, 2008, Palin wrote that Green wanted the governor's office to "bail her butt out of a pickle she got herself into." "I feel very 'set up' by Lyda on this one… we're being used," she wrote in the email to her staff about a special session Green called to pass legislation. "I want the bills passed, obviously, and I don't want her to get to put any blame on me for the failure of these bills to get adopted." But even worse, by April 2008, Palin was convinced Green was the one starting the rumors that Bristol was pregnant.
13. Mixing Professional Matters With Private Email Account
Palin maintained another private email account for most of her time in office, on which she mixed personal and professional matters. Emails that passed between private accounts are not included in the release because only emails (at her official state account and a frequently used Yahoo account) that passed through the state server in some fashion were included. But Palin used a firstname.lastname@example.org to conduct business with her aide Frank Bailey, raising concerns that some of her official business communications were not captured in this release. Bailey, of course, would later sour on Palin and write his scathing memoir.
13. Defensive About Showing Travel Expenses
In August 2008—before she joined Sen. John McCain's campaign—emails from Palin show her in defense mode over accusations that she was spending state money on personal and family expenses. In an email to several aides who had forwarded her a request for her travel records, Palin wrote: "Make sure he knows we don't accept the kids meals/per diems... And that the state doesn't rent me an apartment or nor hotels in Anchorage or the Valley on a regular basis." She also took a shot at Alaska's former governor Frank Murkowski, to highlight his personal shortcomings and scandals against her record: "Show him Murkowski's 'top advisor-my wife' memo also please."
14. "No Scientific Evidence" Polar Bears Are Endangered
In January 2007, Palin sent an email to her aides with an embedded letter from Mary Walker, the head of an Anchorage environmental group, which rebukes the governor for requesting that the federal government not include the polar bear on its list of endangered species. The environmentalist wrote in her letter that Palin's written request to the government "had several clear factual errors such as the statement: there is no scientific evidence.... that these polar bear populations are declining." Walker then provided the scientific evidence to counter Palin's claim, and disparaged her assertion that there was "no discrete human activities that can be regulated" when it came to the effects of global warming on polar bears' habitat.