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Meet Sarah Palin

| Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008

Editor's note: This column first appeared on July 16, 2007. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was named as John McCain's running mate on Friday. We repeat it today, with a few parenthetical updates.

Sarah Palin can teach Republicans how to be Republicans. It's a simple lesson. But it won't be easy for anyone who believes being pragmatic and principled are mutually exclusive.

Mrs. Palin, (now 44), is the governor of Alaska and the brightest light in the land of the midnight sun.

While raising four kids (she now has five) with her husband, Palin has reduced taxes, embraced the state Constitution, publicly complained about powerful fellow Republicans she thought unethical, encouraged companies to compete for state contracts -- and has not ruled out running for president.

She relishes moose burgers because "they taste better than beef with no chemicals, steroids or hormones." She adopted the Pittsburgh Steelers because of the team's success in the 1970s and because there are no major professional teams in her state.

As a teenage flautist trying to win a scholarship, she was second runner-up in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant. Looking back, she now thinks she was livestock in a swimsuit being eyed by the male judges. "Degrading" she calls it now.

Talk with her for awhile, as I did (on July 12, 2007), and try to count the number of references to her state Constitution. During that phone call, she cited it more than 12 times -- not once gratuitously.

"It's my bible in governing," Palin says. "I try to keep it so simple by reading the thing and believing in it and living it. It's providential. Some of the crafters of the Constitution are still alive. They're my mentors, my advisers. I get to meet with these folks and ask, 'What did you mean by this?' And it makes so much sense."

Palin does not favor same-sex marriage. However, she vetoed a bill prohibiting official gay unions because the judiciary had ruled that banning it was unconstitutional. "I wasn't going to disobey what the courts said we could and couldn't do." When she swore to uphold the law, she meant it.

Ask her to articulate her conservative principles and you'll hear, "Fiscally speaking, the private sector can do a better job than government can do." She also believes in man. "Also just trusting individuals to make wise decisions for themselves and families. I have a lot of trust in individuals. I don't trust government nearly as much."

Gov. Palin vetoed about a third or more of the capital budget, she says. "It's not an open, transparent process at all. The way (the Legislature) works, the administration doesn't even know what's in it until the gavel falls. It's handed to the governor without public process and public debate. It's a nonsensical way of budgeting."

Many of the vetoed items were earmarks by her fellow Republicans. Little wonder she and her party are estranged political bedfellows. "There's absolutely no communication between the state administration and the Republican Party," she says. "No communication, no calling for advice either way."

Some would look at that as the price she has to pay for being a GOP maverick. That is, someone who talks the talk and walks the walk. "I look at it as the way it's supposed to be."

Palin recently signed a bill vastly improving Alaska's ethics and disclosure laws. Now it's a crime for public servants not to report bribery they know about.

Ask her five or six different times if she will run for president and hear nervous giggles and self-deprecating humor. But you won't hear "No."

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