From inside the booth, a very nice volunteer caught my glance, so I tucked my head inside, shook hands, and thanked the gracious ladies who put up with the jeers of those who always protested the display. With their passion and sincerity, the ladies typified the difference between principles and politics. As I signed the visitors' book, I saw Piper's picture again on the counter and became annoyed at my own annoyance. I still hadn't learned to accept the fact that political machines twist and distort public service—and that, a lot of times, very little they do makes any sense.
Years before, I had seen our state speeding toward an economic train wreck. Since construction began in 1975 on what would become Alaska's economic lifeline, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, it had grown increasingly obvious to everyday Alaskans that many of their public servants were not necessarily serving the public. Instead they had climbed into bed with Big Oil. Meanwhile, in a young state whose people clung to America's original pioneering and independent spirit, government was growing as fast as fireweed in July.
It didn't make sense.
It seemed that true public service, crafting policies that were good for the people, had become increasingly derailed by politics and its infernal machines. But I had a drive to help, an interest in government and current events since I was a little kid, and I had become aware of the impact of common sense public policy during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. I was intrigued by political science in college and studied journalism because of my passion for the power of words. And I had been raised to believe that in America, anyone can make a difference.
So I got involved. I served first on the Wasilla City Council, then two terms as mayor, helping turn our sleepy little town into the fastest-growing community in the state. Then I served as an oil and gas regulator, overseeing the energy industry and encouraging responsible resource development, Alaska's main economic lifeline. In 2002, as my second mayoral term wound down, my husband, Todd, and I began to consider my next step. With four busy kids, I would certainly have enough going on to keep me occupied, even if I chose to put public service aside. And for a while, I did. But I still felt a restlessness, an insistent tugging on my heart that told me there were additional areas where I could contribute.
From what I could see from my position in the center of the state, the capital of Juneau seemed stocked mainly with "good ol' boys" who lunched with oil company executives and cut fat-cat deals behind closed doors. Like most Alaskans, I could see that the votes of many lawmakers lined up conveniently with what was best for Big Oil, sometimes to the detriment of their own constituents.
When oil began flowing from Prudhoe Bay in 1977, billions of dollars flowed into state coffers with it. The state raked in more revenue than anyone could have imagined—billions of dollars almost overnight! And the politicians spent it. Government grew rapidly. One quarter of our workforce was employed by state and local governments, and even more was tied to the state budget through contracts and subsidies. Everyone knew there was a certain amount of back-scratching going on. But an economic crash in the 1980s collapsed the oil boom. Businesses closed and unemployment soared.
Copyright 2009 by Sarah Palin Harper Collins Publishers