When Gov. Sarah Palin was introduced as John McCain's running mate, she was touted as an adherent to McCain's anti-pork orthodoxy. She was a committed foe of "the abuses of earmark spending," and had rebuffed the notorious "bridge to nowhere."
But as a barrage of stories showed, the reality was far more complicated, particularly the bridge. It seemed hard to reconcile Palin's supposed anti-earmark bona fides with the mayor's glee in 1999 at landing a $1 million earmark for her town of 7000.
Today, McClatchy -- despite the unkind headline ("Palin was for earmarks before she was against them") -- suggests a more favorable narrative. (The Anchorage Daily News, a McClatchy paper, runs the story under "Palin's Take on Earmarks Evolving.")
"Palin has increasingly distanced herself from earmarking since she made her first trip to Washington to lobby Congress for money in 2000. And over the past year, her stance has been the leading source of tension between Palin and the state's three-member congressional delegation."
It's not an evolution without its complications. Palin continued to push earmarks throughout her tenure as mayor, ultimately landing a total of about $27 million from 2000 to 2003. The Washington Post therefore suggested a later moment of conversion: "Palin became a staunch reform advocate after her 2003 appointment to the state's Oil and Gas Commission."
But under Palin's leadership, as McClatchy reports, the state has requested fewer earmarks. The total has diminished from $350 million in 2007 to $256 million in 2008 to $197 million in 2009. (The AP earlier put the 2007 total at $550 million, and the reason for the discrepancy isn't immediately clear).
And Palin's criticism of excessive earmarking has put pressure on the state's renowned pork barrelers. McClatchy reports that the delegation was so "infuriated" after Palin abandoned plans for the bridge that "it began publicizing on their individual Web sites all of the earmark requests they received from Alaska, just to point out the sheer volume, especially the number originating from the governor's office."
Of course, when mentioning Palin's opposition to committing the funds to the bridge, it's worth remembering that Palin's move did not turn down the $200 million -- it was applied to other state projects.
And as has been frequently pointed out, Palin supported the project during her 2006 campaign. Her decision in 2007 was arguably dictated by the unlikelihood of any further federal money to complete the $400 million project. Nevertheless, Palin could have stood with the state's delegation in opposition to the project's Republican and Democratic critics in Congress, but she did not.
It was a decision that caused Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) to reflect sulkily, "It is a difficult thing to get over right now, the feeling that we don't represent Alaska because Alaska doesn't want earmarks." On the other hand, Palin and Stevens are not the "mortal enemies" they're often portrayed as.
So what does this all add up to?
"I think she's somewhere in between," Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense tells McClatchy. "If you look at her more recent comments, it looks like she's seen the light about the process of earmarks and wants to wean the state from its addiction."