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Small Government Champion?

Or maybe not:

WASILLA, Alaska — The biggest project that Sarah Palin undertook as mayor of this small town was an indoor sports complex, where locals played hockey, soccer, and basketball, especially during the long, dark Alaskan winters.

The only catch was that the city began building roads and installing utilities for the project before it had unchallenged title to the land. The misstep led to years of litigation and at least $1.3 million in extra costs for a small municipality with a small budget. What was to be Ms. Palin’s legacy has turned into a financial mess that continues to plague Wasilla.


Ms. Palin marched ahead, making the public case for a sales-tax increase and $14.7 million bond issue to pay for the sports center, which was to feature a running track, basketball courts and a hockey rink. At the time, the city’s annual budget was about $20 million. In a March 2002 referendum, residents approved the mayor’s plan by a 20-vote margin, 306 to 286. The city cleared roads, installed utilities and made preparations to build.

Later that year, Ms. Palin’s final one as mayor, the federal judge reversed his own decision and ruled that the property rightfully belonged to Mr. Lundgren. Wasilla had never signed the proper papers, the court ruled.

Mr. Lundgren said he had offered to give smaller parcels to the city free of charge, but the city held out for a larger tract. The former chief of the city finance department, Ted Leonard, says he doesn’t recall such an offer.

After Ms. Palin left office, the city decided to take 80 acres of Mr. Lundgren’s property through eminent domain. An Alaska court confirmed the city’s right to do so and ordered that an arbitrator determine the appropriate price.

Last year, the arbitrator ordered the city to pay $836,378 for the 80-acre parcel, far more than the $126,000 Wasilla originally thought it would pay for a piece of land 65 acres larger. The arbitrator also determined that the city owed Mr. Lundgren $336,000 in interest. Wasilla’s legal bill since the eminent domain action has come to roughly $250,000 so far, according to Mr. Klinkner, the city attorney.

Never mind the jumped-gun and the legal mess and eminent domain abuse that ensued: championing a nearly $15 million dollar public spending project for a rec center for a town of 9,000? That’s about $1,633 per resident: not exactly what I think of when I think of “small government” and “fiscal responsibility.”

I was ridiculed on this site earlier in the week for claiming that Palin was “just another politician.”
Massive public spending projects, hiring lobbyists to win earmarks for her town, for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it — laugh all you want, but it sure looks like politics as usual to me.

H/T: Obsidian Wings

32 Responses to “Small Government Champion?”

  1. Vinny Says:

    You left out the best part of that WSJ article: The McCain-Palin campaign referred questions about the sports complex to Mr. Leonard, the former city finance chief. He blamed the Nature Conservancy [the seller] for dealing with two different potential buyers at one time. “That’s what caused the confusion,” he said.

    Wow! That’s some executive who gets confused by the idea that a seller might negotiate with more than one potential buyer. As an aside, had Palin never heard of title insurance?

  2. joe Says:

    2 points.
    The center was subject to a city wide vote.
    When during the school year you can have days where the sun never really rises into the sky, a indoor rec center no longer seems quite so frivolous, and small town Alaska has a lot of focus on youth sports.

  3. Fiftycal Says:

    OH MY GAWD! Does this mean she’s not JESUS???? Well, I, for one, will not vote for someone that is not PERFECT! Now where is that lever you pull to vote for the REAL MESSIAH! $15 MILLION! Why you could pave a MILE AND A HALF OF ROAD for that. Oh the HUMANITY!

  4. nk Says:

    It’s a free country. Vote for the guy who has voted for a $1 million in earmarks for every day he’s been in office.

    In any case, since when was Palin’s platform small government?

    Here are the reasons why I’m voting for her.

  5. Anna Says:

    She’s not a lawyer, and the article did not specify which year the negotiations started. Why is that important? One, as a city administrator/mayor, I can’t blame her if she relied on her finance chief when he said the deal is legal. She seems like a go-getter to me, and I can imagine that if her finance chief says it’s all hunkydory, that she’d go ahead with the project. She also had a court ruling that said the city was in the right.

    It seems like her mistake was in not being more careful with getting into details. (I wonder, in a real estate purchase, how many people actually read the fine print versus relying on their real estate agent or lawyer to boil it down for them?)

    The reason I’m proposing this as the case is that when the law banning same-sex benefits for gay partners came up, she consulted with her lawyer on whether it is constitutional or not. I’m betting she was a lot more careful after her experience in Wasilla.

  6. Sebastian Says:

    I wouldn’t claim she’s not a politician, but she has a lot of potential as one. You can’t expect any politician to be the standard bearer for everything you believe in. Palin is certainly not that for me. But what she is, is an icon that the Republican coalition can rally around. They can rally around her because she means enough to the various parts of the Republican base, that they are willing to get behind her.

    That’s a lot more than you can say for Bush. It’s also a lot more than you can say for McCain. Sarah Palin is a lot of things that people like about McCain, without McCain’s baggage. That’s what makes her such a good vessel for the Republican Party moving forward.

  7. Huck Says:

    Ok, so she made a mistake, a big one! But this was a well intentioned mistake, not a pork barrel project.

    The fact that seems to be overlooked is that Palin tried to do something GOOD for the people of Wasilla.

  8. Alchemyst Says:

    2 Things jumped out at me. 1st I was really hoping Palin would be as pure as the driven snow but I didn’t really expect it. 2nd thing is that our side is truly the side that hunts for the truth – even when it hurts. How often is it that any liberal has anything bad to say about one of their own?

    She and McCain are still the ticket to vote for but damn I’m disappointed.

  9. Zendo Deb Says:

    “Just another politician”

    Name someone who is not just another politician who is running for national office somewhere. Congress-critters who claim to be “outside the system” might qualify on their first term/first run.

    They are all politicians. They all do things to get elected.

    Local government today does things like build sports complexes.

    I grew up in a town of 10,000. They built pools, and ice rinks, and football stadiums (though that was the high school). Today they are only slightly larger, and they are building libraries (a new one since the one they built in the 70s is now too small).

    That is what governments do. They spend money.

    Every government – whether Republican or Democrat – does this. Some it is good. A lot of it is stupid.

    If you want get rid of all of the people who can be described as “just another politician” you have a lot of work to do. Then you have to decide who would replace them. More politicians.

    Is Gov. Palin an exception? Who knows. Who cares. Did you vote against Jimmy Carter because of who his VP was? Was Bush-the-Elder elected because of Dan Quayle? Or did Dole lose because Jack Kemp was the wrong choice of a running mate?

    Most people on the right are looking for any reason to vote. Vote against Obama sure, but they are looking for a reason to be excited. If this is a reason for them great. An Obama Presidency is probably going to cause real long-term problems, since he will likely be free to create all kinds of socialist programs, and raise all kinds of taxes. And he will try his hand at gun control.

  10. illinois voter Says:

    So who was the city attorney that gave the go ahead on the construction? You know the guy who’s job it is to read and understand the contracts.
    A sports complex in Alaska might be a useful thing for the community. Indoor sports in February when its 40 below……

  11. wolfwalker Says:

    It’s true that the city of Wasilla has 7000-9000 residents within its boundaries. However, the borough around it (Matanuska-Susitna Borough) has about 60,000. Further, the city is within easy driving distance of Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska with 279,000 residents, and is actually considered part of the Anchorage metro area (360,000 residents). If the Wasilla rec center is drawing people from throughout the borough and from Anchorage, then its client base is a hell of a lot bigger than the city population alone. It’s quite possible that if you include all the economic activity generated, direct and indirect, the rec center is a net economic plus for the city.

  12. Jay.Mac Says:

    I’ve looked for it but can’t find an article that agree with Wolfwalker’s point- the centre was intended to draw people to the town. Anyone else recall reading that? If the people of the town voted for it too, I can’t complain too much.

    Anyway, I think you left out one important quote from the article-

    “All I can say about the sports complex is that it was done on time and under budget,” said Donald Moore, a Palin ally who managed the construction.

    Fair enough to criticise her on the big spending but it’s not too often you hear about projects like this coming in under budget, is it? A point to ponder when the same article claims she wasted $1.3 million.

    So which is it- over a million over costs, or under budget?

  13. EgregiousCharles Says:

    Thanks, TGirsch! Interesting point. Much better than the ring-the-doorbell-and-leave-a-burning-bag-of-dog-poop post you usually do around here.

    As other commenters have pointed out, though, this is an area where the competion is worse. Vote for Obama-Biden because Palin spent too much on a rec center? Not likely. Almost as bad as criticising her lack of experience when she’s only the Republican VP candidate and she has as much or more than the Democract presidential candidate.

  14. retro Says:

    Dig TG, dig! Surely you’ll find some poop sooner or later. It may not be fresh, but you’ll still enjoy the stench.

    Wallow in your mire all you want, but in the end it’s just sour grapes, isn’t it?


  15. Dan Says:

    I thought what she did there did not matter, since it was only 9,000 people. I wish the liberals were more consistent on anything; if libs are going to pound her for this town for being small and not helping her with executive experience, than they should quit focusing only on the mistakes she did while mayor or this supposedly insignificant town.

    At least she did not advocate murdering abortion survivors, which is far graver than the amount she bungled there. More mud has failed again to stick to her.

  16. tgirsch Says:

    Much better than the ring-the-doorbell-and-leave-a-burning-bag- of-dog-poop post you usually do around here.

    Ha! Guilty as charged! 🙂

    As for the experience thing, all the liberals have been doing is pointing out the McCain camp’s egregious double-standard on the matter of experience. Liberals haven’t been saying “experience is a must-have,” that’s been the conservatives — until suddenly they nominate a VP candidate with considerably less experience than a potential Democratic VP candidate whom they had very recently ridiculed for his lack of meaningful experience (see again the video I posted a couple of days ago).

    Also, whether the competition is worse depends upon your definition of “worse.” Back in the day, old-school fiscal conservatives would have said that taking on a moderate spending project that you couldn’t pay for was a more egregious sin than a large spending project that you could. But for years, Republicans have been expanding spending without being able to pay for it, running deficit after deficit after deficit. At least the Obama/Biden campaign is up front about what kind of spending they want to do, and the fact that some taxes will have to be raised to support it. I’m sure knee-jerk anti-tax types like Say Uncle will think that’s “worse” than lying about wanting to cut spending, actually increasing to record spending while lowering taxes, and passing on an immense debt burden to our kids. I just think that there are a lot of people in the middle who don’t share his view on that.

    A point I keep repeating here is that the voters approved the rec center as if that somehow makes it okay in the minds of small-government types. That would seem to me to be a double-standard. Most expensive (and often wasteful) government programs enjoy wide support among the electorate, including some of the biggest ones. That doesn’t stop libertarian types from decrying them. And in this case, even if you want to be generous and use the lowball estimate of the town’s population, barely over 5% of the town’s population voted for it (306 out of 6000). It was obviously a low-turnout election.

    Maybe the rec center was a net plus for the community. Personally, I’d argue that it almost certainly was. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that libertarians and other small-government types would argue that it still isn’t the government’s job — if it really is capable of bringing in enough revenue to pay for itself, they’d say, then someone in the private enterprise could/should do the project, without taxpayer involvement.

    As for the “just another politician” thing, again, I only bring it up because I was ridiculed here for saying that about her. Zendo Deb is correct that this describes virtually all of them. I initially brought it up because as the left was vilifying Palin, the right was deifying her as some sort of champion that’s simply not supported by the record.

    As for retro‘s allegation, no sour grapes here. In fact, I’m thrilled with the Palin pick. The one that would have scared me was Huckabee.


    If by “advocate murdering abortion survivors” you mean “voted against a bill that was an cynical pander to pro-lifers, and impossible to enforce anyway,” then I suppose I’ll grant that point. (P.S. I don’t think “advocate” means what you think it means.”)

  17. Tam Says:

    You know, I thought Ronald Reagan was a complete tool on a lot of issues, but I’d vote for his corpse over Biden, McCain, Obama, or Palin.

    We are obviously not speaking the same language, here. You push this out with a sneer. I look at it and say “And…?” And then you say “How can you not see it?” and I say “See what?

    Like I said, we’ll see ya’ at the polls, tgirsch.

  18. tgirsch Says:

    I’d vote for [Reagan’s] corpse

    You and Lewis Black. 🙂

    we’ll see ya’ at the polls

    Only proverbially. In a bizarre twist of events, I’ll actually be out of the country on election day. 🙂

    Look, I have no illusions that I’ll convince the die-hards of anything here. It’s not that McCain/Palin supporters don’t know that they’re full of shit — it’s that they don’t care. On these one or two pet issues, they have the appearance of being better than the other guys, so they get the vote. Which is really no different than how Democrats or anyone else votes.

    The best we can ever do when we see politicians pretending to be something that they’re clearly not is to point it out, and hope somebody notices and cares. But let’s face it: in the blogosphere, virtually everyone had their minds made up months ago, and no silly “facts” are going to change anything for anybody. 🙂

  19. persimmon Says:

    How often is it that any liberal has anything bad to say about one of their own?

    Oblivious much? Did you sleep through the past year of Hillary attacking Obama? Have you ever talked to a liberal about Neville Pelosi declaring impeachment of Cheney “off the table”? Liberals routinely criticize each other.

  20. Dan Says:

    “If by “advocate murdering abortion survivors” you mean “voted against a bill that was an cynical pander to pro-lifers, and impossible to enforce anyway,” then I suppose I’ll grant that point. (P.S. I don’t think “advocate” means what you think it means.”)”

    Well, he was one of the few proponents against that sensible bill back in Illinois, although I think he wussed out and voted ‘present’ for that also. Regardless, he was in favor of that bill and made that idea known, so how is that not advocating.

    And how is it hard to enforce? When a baby survives an abortion, do not murder it. Simple. Then again, liberals do like them abortions.

  21. James Nelsom Says:

    Why anyone would pay any attention to anything tgirsch posts is beyond me and I really don’t understand why Say Uncle would give him any space.

  22. Number9 Says:

    Have you ever seen the extreme liberals so afraid since Reagan.

    Palin is Reagan’s second coming and the left is terrified.

  23. Number9 Says:

    Why anyone would pay any attention to anything tgirsch posts is beyond me and I really don’t understand why Say Uncle would give him any space.

    I agree with Uncle, Tgirsch should be here. Tgirsch also posts with me on

    We need more voices. Not less. Rock on Tgirsch, give it your best shot.

  24. RAH Says:

    Unlike the lower 48, Alaska is really undeveloped. If I lived in a small town that had one gas station and a grocery store, I sure as hell would like more development. That was the situation when her parents moved there. They have a Walmart where there used to be trailers on a road and more paved roads.

    Development is not a dirty word. I imagine that this was a popular issue in the town and they agreed to the bond issue. She was working to make the town better. A sport center is one of those items that local governments usually agree to as a local service.

    As to earmarks, if she were my mayor I would damn well want her to get some federal money for improvements. That is what mayors do. She also said she wanted to slash her 68K salary by $4000. She established a police force. They had very minor one before.

    So why denigrate her for doing the best she could for added services to the town? She supposedly went door to door to find out what people wanted and the got them done. That is a responsive government.

  25. Huck Says:

    “Why anyone would pay any attention to anything tgirsch posts is beyond me and I really don’t understand why Say Uncle would give him any space.”

    Why not? Differing views are a good thing as they open up new areas for discussion. And if people were not allowed to post here because of their differing views then that would be no different from the lib blogs that delete posts that oppose their lies, errr… views.

  26. Sebastian-PGP Says:

    Liberals routinely criticize each other.

    Some of us do it like…all day long. 🙂 Especially the stupid ones who still tout the gun control line. I never get tired of skewering those dipshits.

  27. DirtCrashr Says:

    Heck, you couldn’t build a rec center in Palo Alto for less than that – and it’s probably about the median price of homes in Ahterton.
    Question is did any colleagues (Rezko) or former college chums and fellow-travelers (Ayers) benefit as the new Rec-Director and hiring manager job?

  28. joe Says:

    Construction in Alaska is expensive, the ground freezes up to 15 feet deep. The construction season is short, and most everything has to be hauled in from the outside.

  29. wolfwalker Says:

    Just a quick note: Jay.Mac asked: “I’ve looked for it but can’t find an article that agree with Wolfwalker’s point- the centre was intended to draw people to the town. Anyone else recall reading that?”

    I didn’t read it anywhere, I inferred it from the fact that 9000 really is too small a population base to sustain a facility that size. And the fact that most sports or rec centers draw visitors/users from more than just their immediate environs. They gotta be getting more from somewhere, and the rest of their borough (or ‘county’ to most of the rest of us) seems like an obvious answer.

  30. Les Jones Says:

    A point I keep repeating here is that the voters approved the rec center as if that somehow makes it okay in the minds of small-government types.

    As if we would get a vote about, say, taxpayer-funded healthcare or any other big-government issue you champion.

    The taxpayers knew they’d be paying for it and approved it anyway. The sales tax increase was from 2.0 to 2.5 percent and the city will have the money paid off early. More info about this and other Sarah Palin matters here.

  31. chris Says:

    I don’t recall Sarah Palin portraying herself as a libertarian-type, tgirsch.

    And I think that the judge reversed himself on an earlier ruling on the property title matter.

    This would be a fair criticism if you included all of the relevant facts, including, most importantly, that it passed, apparently, by a city referendum and that the voter-approved tax increase is dwarfed by the budget cuts she made by using her veto as governor.

    I don’t think that a mayor has the authority to veto actions adopted pursuant to a municipal referendum.

    I just don’t think it’s fair to focus myopically on a minor tax increase (particularly one that has been approved by the voters) while completely ignoring her proven record of slashing the state’s budget.

  32. straightarrow Says:

    But I’m the dick, remember?

Remember, I do this to entertain me, not you.

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