You and I first crossed paths on a fairly pleasant day in Ketchikan, Alaska, during the lonely part of your effort to unseat the deplorable Governor Frank Murkowski in 2006. Like you, I had a booth at the Ketchikan Blueberry Festival - and neither of us were very busy. You were the "outsider" tracking down the hometown boy, Murkowski, and I was the "radical" environmentalist undermining his work. The conservative town on Revillagigedo Island didn't care much for either you or me at the time.
I approached you on your stroll of solitude around the festival, and you saw my approach out of the corner of your eye. If the signs and the t-shirts and the postcards at my booth didn't label me a "greenie" right away, I know my introduction did: Gregory Vickrey of the Tongass Conservation Society and Alaska Conservation Voters, how do you do?
I knew why you were there, but you told me anyway. You knew I hated the Bridge to Nowhere scheduled for my town, but I told you anyway. And because you noticed I was wearing an Illinois Fighting Illini shirt both of us were more than capable of changing to a lighter topic of discussion. This would not be the last time we'd talk college hoops.
The world now knows you steamrolled through a primary with the aforementioned Murkowski and John Binkley, and overwhelmed the obsolete former governor Tony Knowles (Eric Croft would have been a better challenger, and we both know it) as well as independent nemesis Andrew Halcro in the general election. You had a campaign for change, and our beautiful state was prime for implementing it after the failures of King Frank. You had the wherewithal of keen foresight, and left the established network of good-ol'-boy politics behind. You had the will to challenge, and harnessed the brand of independence to achieve.
Looking back, I see the Sarah Palin I knew in Juneau - the Sarah with a presence of mind to recall our debates about basketball; the Sarah who worked with the aforementioned Croft to remove corrupt individuals from the intertwined network between state government and the oil and coal industries; the Sarah who challenged the federal government and its continued effort to pillage Alaska's natural resources.
The Sarah Palin who was approachable.
The Sarah Palin who helped our small environmental group kill the Bridge to Nowhere.
The Sarah Palin who couldn't say for certain that humankind was the culprit behind climate change, but knew we had to mitigate and adapt to reality anyway.
We didn't agree on a lot of things, Sarah. But when we did, you or your staff knew, and the "outsider" Republican and "radical" environmentalist made a go of it, sometimes quietly and other times not so. Bridge to Nowhere. Village erosion mitigation. Fire Island Wind Project. A calculated refusal to bow down to establishment Republicans over that oh-so-sensitive provision in the state constitution (you remember: they didn't like you and wanted to expose a hypocrisy in you that didn't exist at the time). Alaska Marine Highway System. University Lands. Oil tax reform.
In 2008, I supported the ticket of Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez. I would do so again, because I know and admire both men and believe the views they hold and the work they do are desperately needed on this planet, and in this country. And I know what I am about to share with you in public will likely cause recoil amongst some of my colleagues and allies (no doubt this entire letter does!). But it should be clear in my writing: I have an agenda. And the following email snippet I sent to a rather conservative friend in 2008, after your nomination to Vice Presidential candidacy, serves that agenda.
"She is (was?) a really solid governor for Alaska, and a good person. I was quite lucky to get to know her, and had a good working relationship with her and her administration (as her cancellation of the Bridge to Nowhere in Ketchikan attests). She is extremely popular among the people of the state, and not so much amongst the legislature, which - to me - is great.
"I did not vote for her in 2006. I did not vote for the Democrat Tony Knowles either (and preferred her over him). I actually voted for Andrew Halcro, the Republican turned independent that is leading the charge of the Troopergate scandal. (I respect Andy deeply, and am glad he brought up the question of abuse of power, but I believe he has gone too far, and has done so for the sake of political ambition - it is obvious to me that he has a personal problem with Sarah.)"My biggest fear of her prior to her victory was that she would be far too evangelical once in power. That concern was overblown, frankly. She is smart and savvy, and during her first two years she did a wonderful job of picking her political battles (the Bridge, budget vetoes, gasline, oil taxes, transportation), allowed state agencies to actually do their work, and enforced a sound fiscal policy while challenging corruption at every level of state government. She stayed away from social issues even though she had opportunities to push her evangelical side, and that was brilliant of her (Republican Lyda Green, our Senate President, can't stand Sarah and tried to force an abortion debate - for the purposes of creating derision in the state and to loosen the support of Dems and independents for Sarah on non-social issues - over 6 different potential law changes - Sarah wouldn't bite).
"It goes without saying that I did not agree with her on all things (like aerial shooting of wolves and ANWR), but I wouldn't agree on all things with anyone, and she proved herself to be prudent once elected to the point where I am actually happy with her work, overall.
"I am surprised she accepted the role of VP, given the circumstances with her newest child, but I think the pick was brilliant. My immediate reaction was as follows:"1. As long as she doesn't totally bomb and embarrass herself, I think McCain improved his election chances with the pick of Sarah (barring any extenuating circumstances, inclusive of not letting her be herself). I knew social conservatives and the Christian right would love her (even though she never pushed that agenda in Alaska) and she could certainly garner more than a few Hillary voters.
"2. I fear for Alaska. Should they win, there will be a vacuum in the state, and that vacuum is most likely to be filled by the good ole boys she cleaned out and the oil companies she reigned in. The old guard Republicans - the corrupt ones - are quite pleased with the thought of her being gone, as are the oil companies she whipped into shape. If you want, I can detail more on the whys of this. They are specific."To conclude, the Sarah Palin I know I support. I like her, and I would even work for her on some issues. I hope the national stage and DC cronyism don't change her too much. If they do, I will revisit this statement."
(Gasp! The horror of it all! How could a "radical" leftie actually support anything Sarah Palin has ever done, uttered, or represented?!?)
It should be obvious to anyone: I have revisited this statement many times. I'm haunted by it, in innumerable ways. And not because I was wrong about you, then, Sarah. I wasn't. Rather, I am haunted because I am right about you, today.
Some combination of fortune, fame, limelight, soundbite, ego, and inner circle of advisers has corrupted you and your approach to the point where your effective reality is no better - and in some cases, worse - than the shanty Republican you replaced (Murkowski) and the inept Democrat (Knowles) you demolished back home in Alaska more than four years ago. Misguided counsel, the parade of Johnny's-come-lately, and cronyism have reduced you to a caricature of your character, and undermined your abilities (yes, I said abilities) to change the world for the better, and I'd like to understand why, and what you are going to do about it.
I don't need you to see everything the way I see it, Sarah. I don't expect you to publicly echo my alarm over methane feedback loops from melting permafrost in Alaska. I won't beg you to forcefully acknowledge the climate catastrophe we have on our hands today as the world rapidly approaches states of peril in food security, clean water sourcing, and economic collapse. I can't fathom a day when you will recognize the imperative of a zero carbon world.
But I know your real character - the one that still exists behind the cartoons and the cut-outs. I have seen your recognition of the state of the world and your ambition to affect it positively for the sake of the next seven generations instead of the next seven figures. I have witnessed your hands dirty with the earth of a dying community in Southeast Alaska. I have watched you manipulate with knowledge a massive budget so the imperative mitigation and adaptation could begin.
Don't you think it is time the world sees?
Let me know.
Gregory Vickrey is a consultant in the nonprofit and political arenas and may be reached at: Email address removed