Republicans have been heavily touting Sarah Palin's reformist credentials, with her supposed opposition to Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" as Exhibit A. But how hard did she really fight the project? Not very, it seems. Here's what she told the Anchorage Daily News on October 22, 2006, during the race for the governor's seat (via Nexis):
5. Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?
Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now--while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.
So she was very much for the bridge and insisted that Alaska had to act quickly—the party of Ted Stevens and Don Young might soon lose its majority, after all. By that point, the project was endangered for reasons that had nothing to do with Palin—the bridge had become a national laughingstock, Congress had stripped away the offending earmark, shifting the money back to the state's general fund, and future federal support seemed unlikely. True, after Palin was sworn into office that fall, her first budget didn't allocate any money for the bridge. But when the Daily News asked on December 16, 2006, if she now opposed the project, Palin demurred and said she was just trying to figure out where the bridge fit on the state's list of transportation priorities, given the lack of support from Congress. Finally, on September 19, 2007, she decided to redirect funds away from the project altogether with this sorry-sounding statement:
"Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," said Governor Palin. "Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island," Governor Palin added. "Much of the public's attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened."
Maybe I've missed something, but it sure looks like she was fine with the bridge in principle, never had a problem with the earmarks, bristled at all the mockery, and only gave up on the project when it was clear that federal support wasn't forthcoming. Now, Charles Homans, who knows Alaska well, says Palin's anti-corruption instincts are fairly solid (she sold off the gubenatorial jet upon taking office, for one), and a casual Nexis search suggests that she's fiscally conservative (insofar as that term makes sense in a quasi-socialist state like Alaska), but this hardly looks like the "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" moment everyone's making it out to be.
P.S. Here's a piece that Palin's special counsel, John Katz, wrote in March of this year for the Juneau Empire, assuring the Alaskan public that Palin was still very much in favor of earmarks, but sadly needed to scale back her requests somewhat (to "only" 31 earmarks this year—down from 54 last year) in response to "unwanted attention" from Congress and the press.
Related: TNR on Sarah Palin