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Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008 09:00 pm

Regarding Sarah

Even admirers of Alaska governor Palin question her qualification for Veep

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A friend of mine recently called Barack Obama. Just dialed his cell number, then fell off his chair when the potential president actually answered. My friend freaked and clicked off without saying anything — stunned that the Democratic nominee for POTUS would personally pick up the
telephone.

That's how it is here in Illinois: most of us can trace some connection to Obama in fewer than six degrees of separation (without even passing through Kevin Bacon). And for me, at least, there's a certain comfort in knowing people who know people. It does more than all the media imaginable to help me decide how to cast my vote. And I say that as a native Texan, with close cousins who are tight with a Bush.

I have no such connection with Republican Presidential nominee John McCain. But when McCain tapped Alaska's governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate, I did like my friend and fell off my chair.

As I've mentioned here a time or two before, I used to live in The Greatest and Most Incredibly Beautiful State in America. Heck, I may have even been to Wasilla — the town Palin served as mayor before being elected governor in 2006, as well as the spot where the legendary Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race officially begins (after the phony-baloney ceremonial start in front of the TV crews in downtown Anchorage).

But why would I have remembered it?

Wasilla is sizeable only by Alaska standards. Population 7,000, according to the U.S. Census, it would be sort of like if McCain picked the former mayor of Effingham — and Effingham had reduced its population by half.

In all fairness, since Palin's currently the governor, let's look at the state: The population of Alaska is 670,053. To give you an idea of how small that is, think of it this way — every phone number in Alaska starts with the same area code.

Not that there's anything wrong with being from a small place, mind you, if you have other intellectual resources to draw upon. But here again: The only other place Palin lived for any significant period of time was Montana — state population 944,632 — where she attended college and earned a degree in broadcast journalism. For a while, she worked as a sportscaster, according to my expert source, Mike Doogan.

"Everybody in print knows that's not really journalism," he says.

Doogan was editor of the city desk during my three-year tenure at the Anchorage Daily News. I was a feature writer who kept crossing the newsroom to report for the front page, and I will forever remember him as the droll curmudgeon who made me think a little harder and type a little faster.

At age 60, he's now a published mystery novelist and a member of Alaska's house of representatives, where he has had a ringside seat for Palin's rise from Wasilla mayor to would-be V.P. I found evidence in the ADN archives that Doogan really likes Palin — specifically her innovative oil and gas policies — and that he did so long before McCain ever heard of her. Still, even Doogan doesn't think Palin should
be V.P.

In a guest column for the ADN, he described Palin's resume as having the same thickness as the meat in a vending-machine sandwich and imagined that the only way she could win a foreign-policy debate with Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden would be if she used her briefing book to bop him.

"I don't think she's qualified," Doogan told me via phone. "In fact, the jury's still out here on whether she's a competent governor of Alaska. We're still not sure about that."

He compares her to Dan Quayle — George Bush's V.P., who had the kind of fresh appeal that made him look like he smelled good. But Doogan refuses to make a prediction.

"She has risen to a level with which I have no experience," he says. "It would be just as plausible to me that she would be elected V.P. as for her to do be booted off the ticket next week. Or anything in between."

As we spoke, newswires were churning out a story that Palin had in the past accepted $5,000 in contributions from Bill Allen, president and CEO of VECO Corp. While these donations were not technically illegal, they were tainted — they came from the same donor who has pleaded guilty to bribery and corruption charges in the case involving Sen. Ted Stevens.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

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