Despite significant evidence to the contrary, the McCain campaign continues to assert that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told the federal government “thanks but no thanks” to the now-famous bridge to an island in her home state.
The McCain campaign released a television advertisement Monday morning titled “Original Mavericks.” The narrator of the 30-second spot boasts about the pair: “He fights pork-barrel spending. She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere.”
Gov. Palin, who John McCain named as his running mate less than two weeks ago, quickly adopted a stump line bragging about her opposition to the pork-barrel project Sen. McCain routinely decries.
But Gov. Palin’s claim comes with a serious caveat. She endorsed the multimillion dollar project during her gubernatorial race in 2006. And while she did take part in stopping the project after it became a national scandal, she did not return the federal money. She just allocated it elsewhere.
“We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge,” Gov. Palin said in August 2006, according to the local newspaper, “and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that’s so negative.” The bridge would have linked Ketchikan to the airport on Gravina Island. Travelers from Ketchikan (pop. 7,500) now rely on ferries.
A year ago, the governor issued a press release that the money for the project was being “redirected.”
“Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer,” she said. “Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.”
On Monday in Missouri, Gov. Palin put it this way: “I told Congress thanks but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere. If the state wanted to build a bridge we would built it ourselves.”
Senior adviser Mark Salter pointed to her role in killing the project while in office and allocating the money elsewhere. When pressed further that it was actually Congress that stopped the earmark, Mr. Salter said: “She stopped it, too. She did her part.”
Democratic candidate Barack Obama used a town-hall style event in Flint, Mich., to attack Gov. Palin over the “Bridge to Nowhere” debate. He accused the vice presidential nominee of lobbying for the bridge and then hiding her initial position when she ran for governor and the project became unpopular.
“You can’t just make stuff up. You can’t just recreate yourself. The American people aren’t stupid,” he said. It’s like “being for it before you were against it,” Sen. Obama said, a reference to a damaging statement John Kerry made in 2004.
Why is this one issue such a big deal? Sen. McCain’s anti-earmarks stance has been paramount to his campaign. The Arizona senator has blamed everything from the Minneapolis bridge collapse to Hurricane Katrina on Congress’s willingness to stuff bills full of pork barrel spending.
As such, Gov. Palin’s image as a “reformer” is part of the storyline the McCain campaign needs to complement the top of its ticket. Her quip about passing on the bridge and “building it ourselves” has been a staple of her stump.
But she’s drawn considerable fire as result. Sen. Obama’s campaign released an advertisement pointing out her original support of the bridge. And on Monday, an Obama staffer emailed a photo of Gov. Palin holding up a T-shirt that was made shortly after the bridge caught national attention. It reads “NOWHERE ALASKA” and “99901,” the zip code of Ketchikan.
The McCain campaign jumped back with spokesman Brian Rogers calling the attacks “hysterical.”
“The only people ‘lying’ about spending are the Obama campaign. The only explanation for their hysterical attacks is that they’re afraid that when John McCain and Sarah Palin are in the White House, Barack Obama’s nearly $1 billion in earmark spending will stop dead in its tracks,” Mr. Rogers said.
Sen. McCain regularly charges that Sen. Obama has requested nearly a billion dollars in earmarks. Sen. Obama’s actual total for his four years in office is slightly lower at $860 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, which does not include $78 million for projects that were of national interest and requested by many lawmakers. Sen. Obama did not request any earmarks for fiscal year 2009. For her part, on behalf of the State of Alaska, Gov. Palin has requested $453 million over her two years in office. That does not include any requests made by the Alaska Railroad or the University of Alaska.
In her first solo campaign rally outside of Alaska, Gov. Sarah Palin drew an enthusiastic crowd at the Pony Express Pavilion Saturday and returned to a familiar refrain about the “Bridge to Nowhere.”
Palin has come under fire in recent days for misleadingly saying she told Congress “thanks but no thanks,” refusing an earmark for a bridge to a sparsely inhabited island in her home state. Independent groups and media fact-checkers have said Palin advocated for the federal earmark before opposing it, only ended after Congress had essentially killed it, and kept the $223 million for the appropriation after the project was killed.
Palin had cut the refrain from her speech during her three-day visit to Alaska. But she came back to it today, citing it as an example of earmark reform she and McCain would push for in the White House.
“I told Congress thanks but no thanks to that Bridge to Nowhere — that if our state wanted to build that bridge, we would build it ourselves,” she said.
That’s some more straight talk for you! NOT