When the 29 members of the Alaska delegation gathered on the convention floor in St. Paul yesterday evening, they were mobbed by reporters—some from as far away as Italy. The delegates, who wore identical drilling helmets and yellow and orange fluorescent vests decorated with a large color photo of caribou grazing in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil field (to advertise their support for drilling in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge), were hard to miss. That was the point. The Alaskans happily submitted to questions from journalists, eager to dispel myths about their state and to talk up their governor.
Bill Noll, a 69-year-old delegate from Anchorage who has known vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin since 2002, said Alaskans should expect the scrutiny (except about Palin's teenage daughter's pregnancy, which he called irrelevant). What matters is that Palin is down-to-earth, accessible, and will help Alaskans change their state's image from a sleepy backwater. "America is really good at this—having people come out of the soil in the small towns—Truman did it," he said. "Sarah's like that. She's a real person with a shiny personality."
Noll and other Alaska delegates said they are excited about Palin's ascension to the presidential ticket because she is one of them and understands how they live. Many delegates cited Palin's support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and said they hope she convinces John McCain to reconsider his steadfast opposition to using the protected territory for oil production. Gene Brokaw, 67, also a delegate, explained that the ANWR is larger than many other entire states, but that the area under consideration for drilling, is no bigger than a medium-sized airport. Palin understands how important it is to start producing our own oil, Brokaw said, and she shares his belief that opening the ANWR to drilling will be an economic boon for Alaska. "It will bring good jobs to Alaska because ANWR is not the most hospitable part of the state (so currently it is not developed)," he said. "It's bum ugly up there. She understands—she's been there, she knows, she's seen." Brokaw also praised Palin's ethics, saying she quickly won support from Alaskans because she is a reformer and has gone after "some people that were on the take" in a state that has long been plagued by corruption.
Chris Nelson, the 64-year-old chair of Alaska's delegation, emphasized something simpler. Palin is a friend to her constituents, he said. "She's one of the most approachable public figures you've ever met," he said. "There's nothing pretentious about her. She's just like your neighbor." Nelson said he recently encountered Palin and her husband at a seminar that Todd Palin gave on snowmobile racing. Palin and Nelson spent several minutes chatting and they toured the displays together, looking at the vehicles.
Nelson also praised Palin for her hobbies—she is an avid fisher and a lifelong hunter. Nelson said Palin and her husband have fished Alaska's Bristol Bay for years and even named their 17-year-old daughter Bristol after the body of water. Nelson said Todd Palin's decision to go by the moniker "First Dude" is a good example of how the couple fits in with average folks. "It's what we're all comfortable calling him," Nelson said. "We're kind of skeptical of people who are pretentious [and the Palins] have a great sense of humor."
Other Alaska delegates instead focused on Palin's competence, but spoke with equal pleasure. Mel Krogseng, a 66-year-old woman from Soldotna, a small town bordering Alaska's Kenai River, said that the media has been unfair to Alaskans by portraying the state as too small to count for much on a resume. She said Alaska might have a small population, but its landmass is huge, with one of the longest coastlines in the country. "We have a huge budget," she said. "Sarah has dealt with very important issues [such as] fisheries issues with Russia...Being governor of our state gives you tremendous experience."