Palin dismisses political road bumps

JUNEAU, Alaska — It would seem like a bad week for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but she said she’s looking past snubs from a major Republican fundraising event and her former running mate to focus on Alaska.

Nationally, Sen. John McCain said he wouldn’t commit to supporting her for president if she ran in 2012. Then she was replaced as the keynote speaker at June’s Senate-House Dinner in Washington, though she said she never accepted the invitation.

In her home state, she’s drawn fire from Republican legislators on the state’s use of federal stimulus funds, from Democrats on her state Senate nominee and from Alaska Natives for her choice for attorney general.

Such setbacks could make any politician reel, but Palin breezily insisted it’s been a great week.

“I would never accomplish anything and our administration would be ineffective if all I did was try to please those who look for anything to be negative about,” she said Thursday.

Sitting in the hallway outside her Juneau office in clogs and a puffy down vest, Palin chatted with lawmakers, looking more like the small-town mayor she once was than the self-proclaimed “pit bull” in the glamorous garb who electrified rallies last fall as McCain’s presidential running mate.

Ever since the McCain-Palin ticket failed to take the White House in November, Palin’s name has been among the top tier of plausible presidential candidates for 2012. She’s done little to discourage such talk, even forming SarahPac, a national political action committee last January.

It’s colored how many onlookers view her actions since she returned to Alaska, and Democratic and Republican colleagues alike are concerned she’s trying to balance the state’s needs with her national ambitions, to the detriment of the state.

Palin insisted she has one thing on her mind: “My ambitions are to be the best governor that I can be. That’s what I wake up thinking about, that’s what I go to sleep thinking about and that’s what our efforts are all day long.”

Many Alaskans were shocked when Palin announced last month that she was rejecting half of the state’s stimulus funds, though it turned out to be closer to a third.

The news was confusing enough in a state that is unusually dependent on federal dollars and where many residents still revere former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens for his legendary ability to bring home the pork.

Her staff hastened to assure Alaskans that Palin was simply opening up a public debate on the money she had denounced as a “bribe” that would bind the state with federal strings.

Legislative leaders have said they’ve found very few strings attached. Palin said it appears a majority of lawmakers want to spend the federal money.

“Legislators hold the purse strings,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press without acknowledging that she holds the veto power.

“We’re working together, though, to find a mutual comfort level that includes asking the public to acknowledge this is an unsustainable, debt-ridden package of funds,” she wrote.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday turned down Palin’s pick to fill a vacant Senate seat, and on Thursday the state’s largest native organization released a scathing critique of her choice of Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross for attorney general.

Ross, a National Rifle Association director, has been an outspoken opponent of the federal law giving rural Alaskans a preference in subsistence hunting and fishing in the state, arguing it’s unconstitutional.

The Alaska Federation of Natives criticized his views on subsistence, tribal sovereignty and his ratings in past surveys by Alaska attorneys.

Palin dismissed their concerns, saying her husband and children are part native.

“I’m not anti-native and Wayne Anthony Ross is not anti-native. I would never hire anybody who is,” Palin said.

Political experts agree that if Palin does want to succeed nationally, she’s got to do a good job at home. But Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker said it’s been a rocky road so far.

“I think she’s still ill at ease as a national figure,” Baker said. “She just hasn’t been very good at juggling her state responsibilities versus her new national image.”

Claremont McKenna College political scientist John Pitney said all the nation’s governors are under stress given the current economic downturn.

But Palin needs to “drive home her competence” if she wants to move forward, and the recent bumps in the road haven’t helped that effort, he said.

Though Palin has not said if she will seek re-election next year as governor or run for higher office, few doubt her desire to remain a political player.

“She has plenty of opportunity to move ahead but she definitely has work to do,” Pitney said. “Because if she loses re-election or has an unexpectedly difficult re-election, that could damage any prospects for other jobs down the line.”

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