Before "Drill, Baby, Drill", Sarah Palin Was Thorn in Big Oil's Side


Photo: SS Kennel via Flickr/CC BY

It's true. Before Sarah Palin was foisted into the national spotlight when John McCain announced her as his surprise pick for Vice President, she was an entirely different political creature. You've likely heard that the state of Alaska is releasing thousands of her emails, and journalists and liberals have eagerly been pawing through them to unearth newsworthy nuggets about the ex-governor. But the biggest revelation may indeed be that her personal approach to politics as Governor was miles away from the faux-folksy, Americana-addled persona we see before us today.

Case in point: the emails reveal that before she went all "Drill, Baby, Drill", she was a pain in Big Oil's ass. Here's the Washington Post:

Sarah Palin for the most part hews closely these days to the Republican Party's political orthodoxy ... But on one issue in particular -- the party's long-standing ties to large oil and gas companies that have helped underwrite its attempts to seize and hold power in Washington -- the Palin that emerges from e-mails during her Alaska governorship is a definite renegade.

Scornful, dismissive, avoiding and demeaning -- these were her persistent attitudes in private as well as public dealings in 2007 and 2008 with oil giants ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and BP, which produce most of Alaska's energy and thus accounted for around four-fifths of its tax revenues ... on the national political stage, she's been supportive of the industry's aspirations to expand deep-ocean drilling, famously telling a crowd of Florida supporters before the 2008 election, "Drill, baby, drill."

... Palin, in her e-mails as governor, consistently praised her staff -- and anyone else -- when they were tough on the companies. When a group of Democratic legislators called on the companies in October 2007 to disclose their Alaska-based profits, for example, Palin wrote in an e-mail to her staff: "I know some hate to hear me say it, but . . . the dems are right on this one. And more power to 'em for asking for more info from the Big Three. Too bad the R's couldn't join in this request also."

Despite the state's economic reliance on the oil companies, it's good politics in Alaska to publicly rebuke them. So you could argue that she was just putting on the appropriate mask for a different stage. And remember, Palin has been quoted as supporting efforts to reign in greenhouse gas emissions -- especially because climate change will have a devastating impact on Alaska, where temps are rising faster than the rest of America. Same principle.

Yet the Post article offers an interesting account of a woman working to achieve the best possible results for her state -- and often doing so in a savvy, reasonable manner. She was far from a shill for the oil industry then; she even sought to protect her constituents from its deleterious impacts. These emails seem to reveal that Palin didn't become the superstar caricature of conservative values until she got a taste of the spotlight on the national stage: her painfully contorted answers in interviews, her unabashed toeing of whatever partisan line was necessary, even that robo-folksiness -- all byproducts from the awkward pupa stage of her political metamorphosis.

It makes sense, then, that before Palin fully embraced the 'Drill, Baby, Drill' mantra at any cost, she was a thorn in Big Oil's side -- she wanted it to be less reckless and more transparent. Clearly, her stature as a leading Republican has required her to abandon those aims. Too bad -- we could use a politician bold enough to put Big Oil in its place about now.

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