How Sarah Palin Took Down the Alaska Establishment

Kim Strassel has a must read at the Wall Street Journal that outlines how Sarah took down the corrupt Alaska establishment which had been taking bribes from the oil industry. It’s really impressive how she brought former Governor Murkowski, other high profile government officials, and the oil industry to their knees:

Frank Murkowski made clear he’d be working exclusively with three North Slope producers–ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP–to build a $25 billion pipeline to move natural gas to the lower 48. The trio had informed their political vassals that they alone would build this project (they weren’t selling their gas to outsiders) and that they expected the state to reward them. Mr. Murkowski disappeared into smoky backrooms to work out the details. He refused to release information on the negotiations. When Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin suggested terms of the contract were illegal, he was fired.

What Mr. Murkowski did do publicly was instruct his statehouse to change the oil and gas tax structure (taxes being a primary way Alaskans realize their oil revenue). Later, citizens would discover this was groundwork for Mr. Murkowski’s pipeline contract–which would lock in that oil-requested tax package for up to 40 years, provide a $4 billion state investment, and relinquish most oversight.

I find it pretty funny that Murkowski appointed Palin to chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission. He probably did it because he figured she’d be easy to control or at the very least she’d be like so many other politicians – ready to keep her mouth shut in exchange for a greased hand. He’s got to feel like a complete idiot now.

Kim continues:

Mrs. Palin ran against the secret deal, and vowed to put the pipeline back out for competitive, transparent, bidding. She railed against cozy politics. Mr. Murkowski ran on his unpopular pipeline deal. The oil industry warned the state would never get its project without his leadership. Mrs. Palin walloped him in the primary and won office in late 2006. Around this time, news broke of a federal probe that would show oil executives had bribed lawmakers to support the Murkowski tax changes.

Among Mrs. Palin’s first acts was to reinstate Mr. Irwin. By February 2007 she’d released her requirements for pipeline bidding. They were stricter, and included only a $500 million state incentive. By May a cowed state house–reeling from scandal–passed her legislation.

The producers warned they would not bid, nor would anyone else. Five groups submitted proposals. A few months before the legislature awarded its license to TransCanada this July, Conoco and BP suddenly announced they’d be building their own pipeline with no state inducements whatsoever. They’d suddenly found the money.

Competition is why this pipeline is going through. For thirty years the government of Alaska talked about putting in a natural gas pipeline to ship natural gas down to the lower 48, but corruption kept it from happening. Sarah Palin comes in, throws the corrupt bums out, infuses some much needed competition, and gets it done in 2 years.

Mrs. Palin has meanwhile passed an ethics law. She’s tightened up oil oversight. She forced the legislature to rewrite the oil tax law. That new law raised taxes on the industry, for which Mrs. Palin is now taking some knocks, but the political background here is crucial.

The GOP machine has crumbled. Attorney General Renkes resigned. Mr. Ruedrich was fined $12,000. Jim Clark–Mr. Murkowski’s lead pipeline negotiator–pleaded guilty to conspiring with an oil firm. At least three legislators have been convicted. Sen. Ted Stevens is under indictment for oil entanglements, while Rep. Don Young is under investigation.

Governor Palin’s approval rating in Alaska is 86%. That’s simply unheard of. Only 14% of the Alaska’s population doesn’t’ approve how she’s doing her job. That probably accounts for all the corrupt individuals and their family members.

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