Friday, September 12, 2008

Governor Sarah Palin and the Juneau power crisis

A Jotman exclusive

Sarah Palin asked the question in July: What is the role of the vice-president? The Constitution makes it clear that first and foremost, the job of VP is to serve as a stand-by president. It is a job that entails waiting and requires preparation.

If a vice-president is called upon to assume the office of president, it is in response to an emergency. A vice-president will be called upon to lead only in the event of a national crisis; a situation that will include -- but might not be limited to -- the incapacitation or death of the president. Thereafter, the new president will inevitably be called upon to skillfully navigate a series of national -- and especially international -- crisis situations.

Therefore, a question American voters need to ask themselves is: How competently is Sarah Palin likely to respond in the event of a crisis?

Fortunately, we do not need to guess. From April to May of 2008, the capital of Alaska faced a disaster. The disaster happened to coincide with a personal emergency in the life of the governor -- the birth of Trig at week 36 of her pregnancy.

Responding to my Palin timeline, a Jotman reader observed:
During the time period that you have -- when she is in Texas -- the capital - Juneau - was going through something of a crisis because an avalanche had cut power to the city. The city was running off of expensive diesel generators. The city waited and waited for intervention or comment from the governor and none came.
The Juneau power disaster is a case study in crisis management. A timeline of this crisis show us how Sarah Palin coped when faced with a "double crisis": a disaster in her own state coupled with a personal emergency. The situation confronting Juneau residents in April of 2008 provides a window on the priorities, executive skills, and decision making capabilities of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin.

Here is an excerpt from my timeline. It lists events concerning the duo emergencies that confronted Sarah Palin from March to May of 2008:

Pink - pregnancy related event
Black - other events, power crisis
Ice Blue - temperature in Juneau, Alaska
Red - far right-wing or Christianist politics

2008 - MAR
2008 - Mar 5 - staff and Alaska press, and family, told Palin 7 months pregnant (NY Times story).

2008 - APR
2008 - Apr 16 - 04:00 - Avalanches took out five transmission towers at the Snettisham hydroelectric power plant near Juneau that provides the primary source of electric power to the citizens of Juneau. Estimates indicated the hydroelectric power will not be restored for approximately three months.
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu -
05:00 -
National Weather Service in Juneau issued a Heavy Snow Warning for Juneau. "Heavy snow could pose a threat to life and property" it advised
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu - Day's low temperature for Juneau was 21 F (-6C); record snowfall for Southeast Alaska for April 17.
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu - 04:00 - told family physician Cathy Baldwin-Johnson: passing water, contractions. (two risk factors: premature at week 36 week, has Downs Syndrome)
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu - ??:00 - keynote speech at energy conference in Dallas
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu - ??:00 - plane departs Dallas
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu - ??:00 - plane stops in Seattle
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu
- 17:00 - Juneau city government declared the loss of its hydroelectricity a "disaster," then asked the state for aid. (Passes Resolution 2440: a Resolution Ratifying the City Manager’s Declaration of Emergency).
The Resolution requested "that the Governor of Alaska seek appropriate Federal assistance to help the City and Borough recover from this event". Further it asks "that the Governor of Alaska declare a Disaster Emergency to exist as provided in AS 26.23.140, to provide such State assistance as may be available, and to request additional assistance from Federal agencies where State capability is not adequate."
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu - 18:00 -- Juneau's legislative delegation sent a letter to Gov. Palin supporting a state disaster declaration and asked her office to hire an expert to assist with Juneau's response."The one in five area households that heat solely with electricity face a terrible burden.
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu - ??:00 - plane lands in Anchorage.
2008 - Apr 17 - Thu - ??:00 - one hour drive to Wasilla, driving past NICU hospitals.
2008 - Apr 18 - Fri - day's low temperature in Juneau Alaska is 17F (-8C); Record low temperatures for Southeast Alaska for April 18.
2008 - Apr 18 - Fri - Trig born.
2008 - Apr 18 - Fri - 18:00 - Alaskan comments: "It boggles my mind how quiet the Governor's office has been. I think this is all part of a plan by her office and some legislators to move the capital."
2008 - Apr 18 - Fri - 23:00 - Alaskan comments: "Since the governor just gave birth, I guess I should excuse the silence from the mansion. Congratulations Sarah!"
2008 - Apr 19 - Sat - day's low temperature in Juneau Alaska is 19F (-7C)
2008 - Apr 19 - Sat - 01:00 - Alaskan comments: "Regarding the Governor, I can understand her being indisposed, new baby and all, but where's her spokesperson?"
2008 - Apr 19 - Sat - hospital.
2008 - Apr 20 - Sun - day's low temperature in Juneau Alaska is 24F (-4C)
2008 - Apr 20 - Sun - hospital?
2008 - Apr 21 - Mon - day's low temperature in Juneau Alaska is 27F (-3C)
2008 - Apr 21 - Mon - attended pipeline meeting.
2008- Apr 21 - Mon - conservation groups called upon the Bush administration to stop delays in listing the Cook Inlet Beluga whale under the federal Endangered Species Act. Time reports that Palin "opposes strengthening protections for beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet, where oil and gas development has been proposed."
2008 - Apr 22 - Tue - day's low temperature in Juneau Alaska is 29F (-2C)
2008 - Apr 22 - Tue - Palin announced that multiple state agencies were working with the power company to asssess the damage and develop a plan to recover power to Juneau.
2008 - Apr 23 - Wed - day's low temperature in Juneau Alaska is 32F (0C)
2008 - Apr 23 - Wed - governor's disaster policy cabinet met to discuss Juneau disaster and discuss declaring a state disaster.
2008 - April 30 - Wed - governor's disaster policy cabinet met for a second time in Anchorage to consider the city's request and recommended to Palin that she not approve the declaration.
2008 - April (late) - small businesses uncertain how to cope with five-fold increase in electricity bill. Many poor and senior residents struggling even before the disaster.

2008 - MAY
2008 - May 1 - US Sen. Stevens spokesman Aaron Saunders said that a disaster declaration could make it possible for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration to provide help in Juneau. "The state's disaster declaration is critical," said Kevin Simpson, legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
2008 - May 2 - announcement that Gov. Sarah Palin has rejected a request from the city of Juneau to issue a "disaster" declaration in response to the city's power crisis.

2008 - May - Palin objected to the federal government listing polar bears as an endangered species
2008 - May 27 - United Way of Southeast Alaska announced Thursday an increase in the eligibility pool for those impacted by Juneau disaster. It will include all those most at risk. They expect nearly 50 percent of the city to apply.
The timeline shows that 1) heavy snow knocked out a substantial section of the primary power line to Juneau on 16 April; 2) record snowfalls buried Juneau on the morning of 17 April; and 3) the record cold temperatures of 18 April would have prompted Juneau residents to jack up their thermostats. This combination of factors presented a significant and unusual threat to the citizens of Juneau and surrounding areas - particularly for those who depend on electric power for heating. You would think that anyone knowledgeable about northern weather would immediately recognize the seriousness of this situation and the need for government to act quickly.

Because that is not what happened, the Juneau crisis of May 2008 raises some serious questions about Sarah Palin that need to be addressed:
  • Palin would likely have been made aware of the situation in Juneau before she gave her presentation at the energy conference in Texas. When faced with both a personal and a state emergency, why did Palin prioritize the energy conference? Did Sarah Palin exercise good judgment when she chose to attend the energy meeting?
  • Given that Palin had plenty of forewarning that she would probably be incapacitated for a few days while she gave birth to Trig, why did Governor Palin not appoint someone to serve as "acting governor" for the duration of her forthcoming period of incapacitation? Under Article 3, Section 7 of the Alaska Constitution, "The lieutenant governor . . . shall perform such duties as prescribed by law and as may be delegated to him by the governor." With a serious crisis afflicting Juneau at the time of the governor's imminent incapacitation, surely the governor ought to have delegated her responsibilities to the lieutenant governor.
  • Why was more not done to provide reassurance to the people of Juneau during the power crisis? Handling emergency contingencies -- providing reassurances to people in distress -- is surely the first job responsibility of the governor of any US state.
Inaction on part of the governor concerning these points makes the Juneau crisis eerily reminiscent of the inadequate response of the Bush Administration to the needs of New Orleans residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
These factors were brought to my attention by Jotman reader Anapolis during the development of Jotman's Sarah Palin timeline. The timeline concerns major events concerning all the known controversies of Palin's entire political career.

1 comment:

  1. Hey thanks for taking this seriously. It is good to see this written down. It might not be the most important issue in the campaign but it is an issue that highlights how she treated an entire city in her state that she doesn't particulary seem to favor.

    If she is VP or perhaps will she treat those that she doesn't agree with? Perhaps this is an example of that.


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