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'St. Sarah' wins Alaskans' support

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's reputation as a crusading reformer after pushing through higher taxes on oil companies has been tarnished by revelations that members of her staff tried to have her former brother-in-law fired from his job as an Alaska state trooper.

State lawmakers have launched a $100,000 investigation to determine if Palin dismissed Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan last month because Monegan wouldn't fire a state trooper involved in a messy custody battle with her sister.

She also is under fire from environmentalists for opposing the Bush administration's decision in May to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act because global warming is melting the polar ice cap. Palin said the decision could damage the state's and nation's economy.

Palin's rapid ascent in politics followed her appointment in 2003 by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski to Alaska's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. From that post, she exposed ethical violations by the state GOP chairman, also a fellow commissioner, who got too close to the oil companies, and later exposed a similar problem involving the state attorney general. Palin's record on oil is not a simple one.

She supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to drilling. But over opposition from oil companies, she pushed through the Alaska Legislature new taxes on the profits from oil pumped on Alaska's North Slope, arguing that an earlier tax proposal by her predecessor, Murkowski, was too lenient to the industry.

With oil prices soaring, Alaska collected an estimated $6-billion from the new taxes last fiscal year. With the state treasury bulging, she won legislative approval for a special $1,200 payment to every Alaskan to help pay for high energy prices.

She supports a TransCanada Corp. pipeline opposed by Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and BP PLC, the major gas lease holders on the North Slope. They have proposed a separate pipeline venture.

Palin's approval ratings have ranged from 79 to 86 percent, says Mark Hellenthal, a Republican pollster in Alaska.

"She's like St. Sarah up here," Hellenthal said.

'St. Sarah' wins Alaskans' support 08/29/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 2:42pm]
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