Q&A: Sarah Palin on Hillary and Bucking the GOP

NEWSWEEK: Sarah Palin, you are a Republican and a conservative one at that. It's unlikely that you and Hillary would agree on too many issues. But, yet, as a woman, chief executive—someone who's been through the grinder—when you look at the coverage and you listen to the conversations, what do you see?
Sarah Palin: Fair or unfair—and I do think that it's a more concentrated criticism that Hillary gets on so many fronts; I think that's unfortunate. But fair or unfair, I think she does herself a disservice to even mention it, really. You have to plow through that and know what you're getting into. I say this with all due respect to Hillary Clinton and to her experience and to her passion for changing the status quo. But when I hear a statement like that coming from a women candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism or a sharper microscope put on her, I think, man, that doesn't do us any good. Women in politics, women in general wanting to progress this country, I don't think it bodes well for her, a statement like that. Because, again, fair or not fair it is there. I think it's reality and it's a given, people just accept that she's going to be under a sharper microscope. So be it. Work harder, prove to yourself to an even greater degree that you're capable, that you're going to be the best candidate. That's what she wants us to believe at this point. So it bothers me a little bit to hear her bring that attention to herself on that level.

Did you ever feel: Hey, I'm getting a question, I'm getting an attitude or something that I don't think my male counterpart would have?
For gender being an issue in my race for governor. You know I grew up with Title IX, and sports were so big, and in my upbringing very instrumental in shaping my character and a need to compete and really to win. So because of a very athletic background and growing up in a family, a busy large family, where gender never was really an issue there. My dad expected us to be back there chopping wood and snowmachining with the rest of them, hunting and fishing and doing all those things that are quite Alaskan. So gender not being so much an issue, you know what more of an issue was? I had served two terms as a mayor and manager of a city before being elected governor and was on a city council before that. It was more of sort of an age-discrimination thing at the time but looking back now, I'm like, "Dang, I was young! What was I thinking?" I was in my 20s, you know, and had babies at the time. That was more of an issue than gender. And that is a little bit still in play today. The other issue is a challenge I think, that someone tried to make for me—again not so much gender-oriented perhaps—but, would I be able to do the job with having kids? I've got a bunch of kids and how would that balance be. And my answer would always be … that I'm going to do the job just as well as any male governor who had kids, you know, I think we can handle this.

Did voters ask you that when you were out campaigning for your first job?
Amazingly, some Neanderthals did.

You have a wonderful Alaska life story. Your husband works on the North Slope. Your dad, whom I met, teaches high school and keeps a pile of skulls of some sort, antlers. I give away my urban background, but lots of dead things piled up. And you snowmobile and you hunt and you're a member of the NRA, you were a champion athlete, and yet the little life detail that seems to sneak into so many stories about you is that you were also a beauty-pageant winner.
Yeah, and I got that title Miss Congeniality out of my system back then, because I'm not running for that anymore. But you know, speaking of sports, growing up. Graduating high school in 1982 there weren't a whole lot of high-school athletes, females going on to college to play sports yet. That's what I was looking for, a scholarship in athletics. I didn't get one, the next best thing would be the Miss America scholarship pageant where at least you had to show that you had a talent. I played the flute and was really into music so, you know I won a couple of titles there, and it paid tuition through four, five years of college. So, that was OK, it wasn't really my thing, I was never really comfortable with it, but it paid for some college, though.

But it's something we fixate on. Do you find the attention paid to that detail of your life excessive?
That's ironic you would even mention that. This morning the local TV station here, KTLA, was going to introduce me as former beauty-pageant queen. And I said, "Could you not say that?" Say commercial fisherman or anything like that, anything but the beauty-queen thing, because it was a little tiny local pageant. I was proud to get up there and play the flute, do a good interview, that was the thing. So, yeah, as recent as this morning, I asked that that not be the highlight.

But I left out that you and your husband run a commercial fishing operation in Alaska in the summer.
But that is funny that the media does kind of fixate on, is it more intriguing and more, I think, revealing of who a person is? Say in my case, she's an outdoorswoman and a commercial fisherman or, you know, way back 100 years ago she was in a beauty pageant? You know, what is more, I guess, attractive to the media [about] that person, what is it that the media fixates on?

Governors make hard decisions, especially now in an economic downturn. You have mandates you can't fill and treasuries that are looking kind of scary. I wonder if you could take a moment and talk about the toughest decision you've had to make, so that people can really understand what it is governors do each day, what tough jobs they are.
Yeah, you have to deal in reality and legalities everyday. A recent decision that, again, put me on the outs with the Republican Party there was recognizing--and I go back to industry and resource development here--environmental standards that were not as high as they should be with some of our resource development projects up on the North Slope. Having to sue the oil companies to make sure they were adhering to law. Then the criticism that came back said, "You're going to drive industry out of this state and create unemployment in this state." … [People said,] "You're going to sue an industry that provides 85 percent of our state's budget and send this message that we're not actually partners with industry?"

But I'm looking long-term. I'm looking at my kids growing up and wanting to provide them opportunities, wanting them to realize clean air, clean water, healthy wildlife up there in Alaska. We've got to make sure we're taking care of that today, which means we've got to make sure the producers of our oil and our gas are following the law. In fact, we have to beef up and strengthen our environmental laws in Alaska so that we can prove we have the correct oversight to allow this development to happen. So, recently, in suing Exxon, BP, Conoco Phillips, you know, the party leaders don't like that.

In California, that would be cause for great celebration, but in Alaska, we should point out, it's a different deal.
The Exxon Valdese oil spill happened 19 years ago. 11 million gallons of crude flowed in our waters after a spill with this tanker, covered 1,100 miles of coastline, decimated fisheries in Alaska, decimated some of our coastal communities. Exxon refused to pay the punitive damages, and they've appealed and appealed. The other day, we filed a friend of the court briefing. 19 years later, the state finally takes a position saying, "Yes, Exxon, you will pay up, you will help remediate these oiled beaches." The beaches are still oiled, too--you kick over a rock, you see oil, and it's from that incident 19 years ago. These livelihoods have been taken away from so many villagers. They want to work; they relied on commercial fishing as their work, but all that's been taken away from them. So, filing a friend of the court briefing there--yeah, it puts you on the outs with some in my party, the leadership there, but it's the right thing to do.

And these are the people who write the checks in Alaska?
Yeah, right.

I do want to circle back to Hillary. There's been so much second-guessing on Hillary, and Hillary's our stand-in for the next frontier for a woman candidate. But this notion that she's made herself so tough that she's not likeable. Do you find you have to walk that line between toughness and likeability? Does anybody still doubt, is she tough enough?
I recognize that Hillary seems to be trying real hard to be tough, but I say, more power to her. I think she's had to do that. It's unfortunate that she's had to do that, but she comes across to me as tough, capable. I can respect that in her, that she is that tough, capable and experienced and all that. You wonder, though, if there is that other side of her that is, I don't know, softer isn't the right word. But you wonder about the personality. What's the other side like? Because what I perceive in just watching mainstream media is that she's trying really hard to be tough and to show that resumé and to prove that she's got that experience. In fact, that's the latest round of everything this last week or so, it's been the experience again, isn't it? Like, Karen, you said, everything's gone around and around in her campaign, but it does seem to have come back to the toughness and the experience. So, I recognize that's what she's trying to do and I think it's unfortunate that maybe a woman candidate feels that she has to go there. You don't see male candidates doing that.

Did you ever feel that? Like you had to pull out your shotgun or hoist a set of antlers?
I have to admit, there are a lot of Web site pictures of me shooting.

And not of senior Republicans in your state.
You know, Karen, and back to Hillary again, she comes across to me--and I respect this too--as someone who just doesn't have time to kind of pussyfoot around and try to win you over with charm and personality. And I do, I respect that, though. She's got that healthy degree of impatience where she just wants to get in there and get the job done, and she's going to go from point A to point B and prove herself and get it done. I say that will all due respect to the candidate, although I'm not going to vote for her. I'm not supporting her. But I do respect that in her.

As an elected woman, is there any guilt about not supporting Hillary?
For me, I had to find a candidate who would do well for my state, who could understand national security as they relate to safe, secure, domestic supplies of energy so that our nation can be less dependent on foreign sources of energy, which we are today to the tune of about 60 percent--and that's nonsensical. [John] McCain fits that bill. He's also such a federalist. He is into states' rights, and that's important to my state also. But I have to admit a little bit of guilt there for not being able to jump on Hillary's bandwagon, because I would so love to see a woman president. I think our nation is overdue there. So, I've said along, "Heck yeah, America's ready for a woman president." Just, for me, it's not going to Hillary whom I can support.

Did you just commit news there by endorsing John McCain?
Well, I was supposed to wait until tomorrow, before the governors came out and did such a thing. But, see, that's why I'm always in trouble up in Alaska. I'll just spew things out and speak too candidly, and then I'll hear about it afterwards. "You weren't supposed to say that."