Saturday, September 06, 2008

About that plane

In her introduction to the Republican National Convention Wednesday night, Sarah Palin clearly charmed the delegates. Besides offering some red meat in her attacks on Obama, she presented a folksy, practical image of herself that is being touted as her greatest contribution to the McCain campaign. Like most things political, that image is partly real and partly a carefully rehearsed artifice. As the details come out, some of the charm will no doubt wear off. The out and out falsehoods, like her claim to have been an unwavering opponent of the Ketchican-Gravina "bridge to nowhere," will be the first to go, but the exaggerations and difference between public and private personality will be harder to banish. Here's one example.

The eBay jet Has become a major element of her legend. The jet was purchased by her predecessor and fellow Republican Frank Murkowski to fly around the state on government business. Much of Alaska, including the capital itself, is inaccessible from the road network. Legislators and businessmen use commercial airlines, hire a well developed system of "air taxis," or learn to fly and get their own planes in order to move about the state. Murkowski purchased the jet, a ten seat Westwind II, for $2.7 million over the objections of the legislature. It came to be one of the symbols of his corrupt, self-serving administration. Palin promised to get rid of the jet and did so after taking office. She now uses commercial airlines to get to and from Juneau, just like the rest of the legislature.

Palin used the story of the jet sale to good effect as an applause line in her convention speech.
I came to office promising major ethics reform to end the culture of self-dealing, and today that ethics reform is the law. While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the Governor's Office that I didn't believe our citizens should have to pay for. That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay.

The crowd ate it up. Using eBay sounds so practical, so middle class, so mavricky. Of course, that's just half of the story. McCain goes even further in his telling and ventures into the realm of fantasy (or, as I like to call it, he lies).
You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on eBay — made a profit.

Palin did offer the jet on eBay, but it didn't sell. After six months and three attempts, the state had only received one serious bid and that fell through. Eventually, the Republican speaker of the Alaska House, John L. Harris, brokered a deal through a middleman, Turbo North Aviation, to sell the jet to a businessman from Valdez named Larry Reynolds. The state lost over half a million dollars on the deal. Reynolds, who got this great deal, was a contributor to Palin and Harris.

It might be that Murkowski paid more for the jet that it was worth and the state was bleeding money just maintaining the jet while they tried to sell it, so getting rid of it sooner rather than later was probably the best move. But they deal most certainly was not a profit maker for the state and giving Reynolds a bargain was hardly the dramatic break with the culture of cronyism and corruption that it has been portrayed as.

I think we can expect more revelations like this one in the weeks to come.

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