By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The most famous hockey mom in Alaska appeared before 5,000 ecstatic Republicans at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds on Monday and declared that she and Republican presidential candidate John McCain intended to “shake things up in Washington.”
Two young women gain a brief one-on-one with Sarah Palin during her visit to Westernaires Arena at Jeffco Fairgrounds.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — McCain’s charismatic and unorthodox choice for running mate — emerged onto the stage in the Westernaires Arena at about 9:30 a.m., after the crowd had been warmed up for a couple of hours by KHOW talk show host Dan Caplis.
Palin entered the arena to a new campaign theme song, “Right Now,” by Van Halen, which — apparently in response to objections by the female rock group Heart — replaced her initial choice, “Barracuda.”
The adoring crowd couldn’t have cared less. The fiercely adoring throng interrupted former Gov. Bill Owens’ introduction multiple times with thunderous applause. Blue McCain-Palin signs waved frantically in the air alongside homemade placards of all shapes and sizes.
When Palin, 44, finally took the microphone, she delivered a stump speech similar to the many others she has made in the brief few weeks since she won the Republican veepstakes, touting McCain’s “all-of-the-above strategy” on energy independence, fiscal conservatism, government transparency and lower taxes.
Palin then went on to define her own “mission,” which, she said, will focus on energy security, government reform and ramping up funding for children with special needs. Palin’s infant son, Trig, has Down Syndrome.
She said she already has focused her time as governor on increasing funding for families with special needs children and promised to champion medical research.
“Too often, government gets in the way when innovators take on cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s, to find a cure. Our administration will lead efforts to find new treatments and new cures,” she declared.
Palin’s remarks had been delayed by almost half an hour so she could finish listening to President George W. Bush’s speech on the economy. She then focused, as Bush had, on the fallout from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the $50 billion buyout of Merrill Lynch.
Palin hailed the decision of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury not to bail out Lehman Brothers.
“John McCain and I, we’re going to put an end to the mismanagement and abuses in Washington and on Wall Street. We’re going to stop the multimillion-dollar payouts and golden parachutes to CEOs who break the public trust,” she declared.
The Alaska governor added that restoring trust in the marketplace will be “one of the highest priorities of our administration.”
She also, however, provided fodder for Democrats by reiterating that she said “thanks but no thanks” on the infamous “bridge to nowhere,” a pet project of Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens that became known nationwide as an example of pork-barrel spending at its worst.
In 2006, during her run for governor, Palin not only backed the project but promised voters that she would “not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that’s negative.”
And — despite her public opposition to the project after she was elected governor — Palin never returned the federal money that already had been delivered to fund it. Instead, she kept the $36 million and used it for other state transportation projects.
Democrats immediately pounced. U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, home to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, led off with a shot over Palin’s record on the bridge to nowhere.
“If Governor Palin wants to represent change in Washington, she could try something like telling the truth about her record of support for the bridge to nowhere or for other pork-barrel earmarks.
“The Republican presidential ticket does not represent change. This ticket represents the same old lobbyist-driven attempt to preserve the George W. Bush policies — policies that were great for big oil companies such as the Enrons and Haliburtons, but bad for hard-working Americans,” Perlmutter said.
The McCain campaign, however, responded with a detailed timeline of Palin’s stance on the bridge and noted that her initial support had eroded as cost estimates skyrocketed and it became apparent that the project would sap important state resources. The statement said Palin “pulled the plug” on the bridge in September 2007, almost a year after she defended it against “the spinmeisters.”
Other Democrats, meanwhile, began their criticism of Palin a full day before she arrived.
On the steps of the Capitol on Sunday, the liberal group ProgressNowAction handed out homemade waffles “to represent (McCain’s and Palin’s) inability to be straight with the public on so many key issues,” said ProgressNowAction executive director Michael Huttner.
And U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, held a press conference to deride Palin’s record on various women’s issues.
The congresswoman noted that during her time as mayor of Wasilla, Palin had allowed law enforcement officers to charge sexual assault victims or their insurance companies for forensic tests needed to gather evidence against their assailants.
Palin, who served as Wasilla mayor from 1996 to 2002, has said she rejected that practice, and a Palin spokesman said in an e-mail to reporters saying the governor “does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test.”
In 2000, the Alaska Legislature passed a bill requiring the town to pay for the kits.
Palin had attacks of her own. She painted Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a big-government tax hiker, drawing loud boos from her wildly supportive crowd.
Most of her comments, however, were focused on promoting McCain’s maverick image and her own reputation as a politician unafraid of bucking her own party and riling special interest groups.
In reference to her battle with Big Oil to increase taxes on the industry, Palin quipped, “The good old boy interests that used to run things up there…. Well, whatever they’re running now, it isn’t the state of Alaska.”
In his introduction, Owens touted Palin’s western-style independence and values.
“We don’t need to educate John McCain and Sarah Palin about keeping taxes low and the need to take on the bureaucracy, because they already know it,” he said.
Palin didn’t let Owens down. A devotee of small-government Republicanism, she asserted that “government isn’t always the answer. In fact, too often government is the problem.”
She then promised the crowd, “We will never forget that, first and foremost, we’re going to be in D.C. working for you, not the special interests, not the incessant partisanship. We’ll be there working for you, Colorado.”
Her reviews were glowing.
Owens said he was “very impressed,” and commented during a conference call Monday afternoon, “(McCain) has just drawn an inside straight for his pick for vice president.”
State Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, added, “She continues to stoke the base and hit the ball out of the park.”
Kopp said he has been amazed by the enthusiasm Palin has generated among woman voters in the metro suburbs, and added that her reputation as a reformer and a political maverick, which mirrors McCain’s image, has been key in drawing support from unaffiliated voters.
“People see her for what she is: a straight shooter,” he said.
As if to make Kopp’s point about women as a vital demographic, Highlands Ranch resident Lynda Skluzak, 44, waved a handmade sign that read “Soccer moms 4 Palin” during the governor’s speech. She said the scene reminded her of the Kirk Douglas film Spartacus.
“You know how at the end they were all shouting, ‘I am Spartacus’? Well, we should all be yelling, ‘We are Sarah Palin,’ because she encompasses all of us,” Skluzak gushed. “I’d rather have her for president than John McCain.”
Skluzak said she crossed her fingers for Palin months before McCain announced his selection on Aug. 29, and was elated when she was named as his running mate.
“A McCain-Romney ticket would have been boring as hell,” Skluzak said, referring to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a favorite on many veep short lists.
Arvada railroad conductor Ken Helvie, 59, said Palin’s speech was “fantastic.”
“There couldn’t have been a better pick,” he gushed.
Helvie, a dues-paying member of the United Transportation Union, said he doesn’t think there’s anyone else in the race who will look out for working men and women the way Palin will. (Palin’s husband, Todd, belongs to the United Steelworkers Union.)
Not everyone in the crowd was there to express support, however.
Diana Caile, a 41-year-old homemaker from Boulder, stood in the back of the room waving an Obama sign, but was consistently shouted down by others around her.
One irritated onlooker walked up to Caile early during Palin’s speech, yanked her Obama sign away and ripped it to pieces.
Undaunted, Caile held up two pieces of the torn sign.
But when she tried to yell, “Unqualified!” several times, a small but determined pocket of Palin supporters began chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Caile said afterward that the destruction of her sign had been “kind of childish.”
“It’s reflective of the Republican Party trying to tear down their opponents’ message instead of building one of their own,” Caile lamented.
But school psychologist Angela Wall, of Aurora, said Caile’s display was “just disrespectful.”
“All I ask is that I be allowed to listen to the speech. I didn’t need someone yelling in my ear,” she said.