Record Contradicts Palin's 'Bridge' Claims
By ELIZABETH HOLMES and LAURA MECKLER
September 9, 2008
The Bridge to Nowhere argument isn't going much of anywhere.
Despite significant evidence to the contrary, the McCain campaign continues to assert that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told the federal government "thanks but no thanks" to the now-famous bridge to an island in her home state.
The McCain campaign released a television advertisement1 Monday morning titled "Original Mavericks." The narrator of the 30-second spot boasts about the pair: "He fights pork-barrel spending. She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere."
Gov. Palin, who John McCain named as his running mate less than two weeks ago, quickly adopted a stump line bragging about her opposition to the pork-barrel project Sen. McCain routinely decries.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain (right) and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, at a campaign rally in Lee's Summit, Mo.
But Gov. Palin's claim comes with a serious caveat. She endorsed the multimillion dollar project during her gubernatorial race in 2006. And while she did take part in stopping the project after it became a national scandal, she did not return the federal money. She just allocated it elsewhere.
"We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge," Gov. Palin said in August 2006, according to the local newspaper, "and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative." The bridge would have linked Ketchikan to the airport on Gravina Island. Travelers from Ketchikan (pop. 7,500) now rely on ferries.
A year ago, the governor issued a press release2 that the money for the project was being "redirected."
"Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," she said. "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. 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."
On Monday in Missouri, Gov. Palin put it this way: "I told Congress thanks but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere. If the state wanted to build a bridge we would built it ourselves."
Senior adviser Mark Salter pointed to her role in killing the project while in office and allocating the money elsewhere. When pressed further that it was actually Congress that stopped the earmark, Mr. Salter said: "She stopped it, too. She did her part." Mr. Salter added that he welcomed a fight over earmarks with the Obama campaign.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama used a town-hall style event in Flint, Mich., to attack Gov. Palin over the "Bridge to Nowhere" debate. He accused the vice presidential nominee of lobbying for the bridge and then hiding her initial position when she ran for governor and the project became unpopular.
"You can't just make stuff up. You can't just recreate yourself. The American people aren't stupid," he said. It's like "being for it before you were against it," Sen. Obama said, a reference to a damaging statement John Kerry made in 2004.
Why is this one issue such a big deal? Sen. McCain's anti-earmarks stance has been paramount to his campaign. The Arizona senator has blamed everything from the Minneapolis bridge collapse to Hurricane Katrina on Congress's willingness to stuff bills full of pork barrel spending.
As such, Gov. Palin's image as a "reformer" is part of the storyline the McCain campaign needs to complement the top of its ticket. Her quip about passing on the bridge and "building it ourselves" has been a staple of her stump.
But she's drawn considerable fire as result. Sen. Obama's campaign released an advertisement3 pointing out her original support of the bridge. And on Monday, an Obama staffer emailed a photo of Gov. Palin holding up a T-shirt that was made shortly after the bridge caught national attention. It reads "NOWHERE ALASKA" and "99901," the zip code of Ketchikan.
The McCain campaign jumped back with spokesman Brian Rogers calling the attacks "hysterical."
"The only people 'lying' about spending are the Obama campaign. The only explanation for their hysterical attacks is that they're afraid that when John McCain and Sarah Palin are in the White House, Barack Obama's nearly $1 billion in earmark spending will stop dead in its tracks," Mr. Rogers said.
At a rally today, Sen. McCain again asserted that Sen. Obama has requested nearly a billion in earmarks. In fact, the Illinois senator requested $311 million last year, according to the Associated Press, and none this year. In comparison, Gov. Palin has requested $750 million in her two years as governor -- which the AP says is the largest per-capita request in the nation.