ANCHORAGE, Alaska — With approval ratings consistently between 80 percent and 90 percent, Sarah Palin is not only the nation’s most popular governor; she might be the public official in America who is held in the warmest regard by her constituents.
Just a year into her first term, Palin is gaining even more national attention.
As political honeymoons go, her’s might be one for the record books.
In 2007, new Gov. Palin got the Legislature to give her the gas line selection process she wanted and the increase in oil taxes she called a special session for.
Meanwhile, controversies over the failed state dairy and her vetoes of public works projects did little to blunt her popularity.
“I think that it’s been a great year,” Palin said. “Thanks to supportive legislators, who are kind of tired of politics as usual and recognize the need to do some things differently and really start progressing the state.”
At mid-year, pollster Dave Dittman found unprecedented high marks for Palin, with 88 percent of Railbelt residents approving of her job performance, notably her working relationship with the Legislature.
“They’re cooperating together. I think the public at large likes that,” Dittman said. “The Legislature has the highest marks I’ve ever seen.”
Legislators were grateful for Palin’s change of pace.
“It certainly was a huge improvement over the last administration. The whole mood was a mood of more cooperation this year than it has been since I’ve been in the Legislature,” said Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage.
“I’m a great admirer of the governor, and the governor’s a good friend of mine, and I think we work together pretty well,” said Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez.
Palin seems to have a frosty relationship with Senate President Lyda Green.
“It’s gone on a little too long — the friction – I think. We should have been able to figure out a way to work together and communicate with each other better by now,” said Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage. “I’m hoping that the next session is a clean slate.”
While Palin has endured her share of attacks from those who opposed the oil tax increase and gas pipeline procedure, her hold on the public imagination has not waned.
“We’ve been standing on the sidelines for years looking for an executive within this state to start sticking up for what the vast majority of average Alaskans believe in, not what the establishment wants, or the people that wear $1,000 suits in the capital of Juneau want,” radio talk show host Eddie Burke said. “What the guy hauling trash wants, what the school teacher wants.”
Across the country, political pundits are taking notice.
Longtime White House correspondent and Baltimore radio commentator Lester Kinsolving says Alaska’s governor would be a perfect running mate for Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.
“I can’t imagine anyone that I can think of right now who would be more appealing as a vice presidential candidate,” Kinsolving said.
Fred Barnes, a regular talking head on Fox News, met with Palin at the governor’s house in Juneau this summer and wrote a rave review about her for his magazine, the Weekly Standard.
“What helps her obviously is that she’s a woman, she’s attractive, she’s a conservative, she has a strong record of integrity, she’s a spending-cutter, she’s not a tax-raiser, and those things obviously would help,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure she’s ready to be vice president, yet, however.”
Barnes spoke before Palin introduced her oil tax legislation and her budget proposal for the next fiscal year.
But the beat goes on, with a story in Newsweek and a recent photo shoot for an upcoming issue of Vogue.
Palin says she has no aspirations for higher office next year. Still, opinion polls suggest she could defeat longtime senior U.S. senator Ted Stevens.
She says the national attention is not going to her head.
Palin’s next test will come in the regular legislative session that begins Jan. 15.