A former beauty queen who has been dubbed “America’s Hottest Governor,” Sarah Palin has nevertheless demonstrated during a meteoric political career that she is more than just a pretty face.
The 44-year-old mother of five sent shockwaves through the US presidential election campaign on Friday when she was named Republican candidate John McCain’s running mate.
Alaska’s first woman governor, Palin is a conservative opponent of abortion who hunts regularly and casts herself as an anti-corruption crusader, positions which have helped win her approval ratings of 80 percent.
She has only led the vast, oil-producing northwestern state since December 2006, when she became the youngest person ever to hold Alaska’s governorship.
Now she has become the second woman ever to run on a major-party White House ticket, and in announcing his pick McCain highlighted Palin’s conservative credentials and experience in rooting out graft in Alaska.
“She stands up for what’s right and she doesn’t let anyone tell her to sit down,” McCain told a rally in Ohio on Friday.
Palin grew up in the town of Wasilla, Alaska — population 6,700 — leading her high school basketball team, winning the local beauty pageant and then placing second in the Miss Alaska contest. A popular car bumper sticker in Alaska reads: “Coldest state, Hottest Governor.”
Palin studied journalism at the University of Idaho and then worked in Anchorage as a television sports reporter before moving into politics, returning to Wasilla in 1992 to serve on the city council. Later she successfully challenged the incumbent-mayor and held office from 1996 to 2002.
Palin soon moved on to bigger game: Republicans entrenched in state office. After she first lost a run for the lieutenant governorship, she helped expose shady deals linked to the state Republican party’s top bosses and finally ousted Republican incumbent Frank Murkowski for the governorship in 2006.
On taking office she immediately began a drive focusing on legislative ethics, driving through a reform bill within six months of her election win.
Palin has juggled her job as state chief with being a parent, and regularly picked up her daughter Piper from the school bus when it stopped near the state capitol building last year.
She continues to commute daily from her hometown of Wasilla to the governor’s office, where a large sign over her suite reads: “Time to make a difference.”
A digital clock nearby counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds remaining in her term, which ends in December 2010.
But Palin’s career has not been all plain sailing.
She is under investigation by the Alaska Legislature for possible abuse of power concerning the dismissal of the head of the Department of Public Safety, Walt Monegan, last month.
Internet reports alleged that Monegan had been dismissed because he refused to fire a state trooper who was the ex-husband of Palin’s sister. Palin has consistently denied that she put pressure on Monegan to fire the trooper involved, describing the allegations as “outrageous” and “false.”
But it emerged on Aug. 13 that there had been more than 20 calls, e-mails and other communications from Palin’s office to employees at Monegan’s Department of Public Safety.
“It’s embarrassing for me to disclose at this time a conversation has occurred, again unbeknownst to me,” Palin told a news conference.