Cover Story

Sarah surge

"Sarah surge" Continued...

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Growing personal disdain along with disagreements over the new taxes on oil companies and the process for moving the pipeline forward have left Green convinced that Palin is bad news for Alaska and potentially bad news for America. "People see her, and they see the picture they want to see, but it's not all paradise," she said of Palin.

Green supports the ethics investigation into whether Palin abused power when she fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. She and other critics of the governor believe Monegan was removed because he resisted pressure from the governor's office to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, who Palin said had threatened to kill Palin's father after a nasty divorce from her sister. Palin denies any abuse of power in the case.

That claim of innocence and Palin's record of accomplishment were good enough for McCain, who added her to the GOP presidential ticket-a decision that propelled her to the forefront of the Republican National Convention for a speech that dropped jaws around the world.

Where did this woman come from?

The short answer: Alaska. Palin's family moved to "The Last Frontier" when she was just 3 months old. Moose hunting and ice fishing became a way of life. Her father, Chuck Heath, rose to celebrity status in Wasilla and was a favorite substitute teacher among the youth. His collections of animal bones and carcasses are legendary.

But Mr. Heath, as he is widely known among the residents who once attended his elementary-school classes, did not arrive in Alaska as a man of faith. His wife Sally took charge of raising Sarah and her three siblings in church, hauling them off to an Assemblies of God congregation every Sunday. Palin was baptized as a preteen and grew in her faith throughout junior high and high school.

Longtime friend Adele Morgan, who dated Palin's brother Chuck Jr. for three years as a teenager, recalls acting as something of a spiritual mentor to Palin. Morgan has since gone on to a career as a Christian singer and songwriter but still calls Wasilla home and attends Wasilla Bible Church, where the Palin family has worshipped for more than a decade. Larry Kroon, pastor of the non-denominational congregation, says he holds Palin and her family in high regard and has "high respect for their faith and their integrity."

Widespread confusion over Palin's church affiliation has filled the pages of national media in recent days, largely due to the family's shifting attendance. "Sarah's been a church hopper in the last political years of her life, because she's got friends everywhere and likes to be supportive, and they like it when she comes to their church," Morgan explained. "But she's been going to our church the most, and when she was mayor she came to our church."

The Palins also occasionally attend The Church on the Rock, an independent charismatic congregation in Wasilla that is home church to Palin's childhood pastor Paul Riley. When at the capital in Juneau, they sometimes attend Juneau Christian Center, also a church with charismatic roots.

Last month, the Palin family dedicated their infant son Trig at Wasilla Bible Church. State Rep. Wes Keller, a family friend, prayed over the Palins' fifth child, who was born with Down syndrome in April.

Keller says he is convinced that Palin's faith is no political act. While being sworn into office last year, he recalls Palin whispering into his ear to gather the elders of Wasilla Bible Church to pray for him and her and their respective jobs. "In that private meeting, she expressly stated her faith in the leading and lordship of Jesus Christ. I can vouch that she is the real item."

Morgan affirms that assessment: "Her faith is very much a part of who she is, and I know that she's a Christian. She will definitely stand up for what she believes in to anyone as far as the pro-life issues. And I've been very proud of her on that."

In many ways, Palin's faith and political philosophy developed in concert. Her small-government commitment, perhaps even libertarian streak, stems from belief in personal responsibility. Her pro-life views flow from a conviction that all of humanity possesses dignity and equal value no matter how small or frail. She has expressed support for teaching alternative theories of origins alongside Darwinism in public-school classrooms, especially theories that allow for a creator.

Such positions endear her to conservatives in Alaska and abroad. Her story endears her to many more.

A tomboy throughout her life, Palin led the Wasilla High basketball team to a state championship with enough determination to earn the nickname "Sarah Barracuda." Juxtaposed to that tough-girl image, she took home top honors in the Wasilla beauty pageant and went on to a runner-up finish behind Miss Alaska.

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