Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has cheered the work of a tiny political party that is pushing for a vote on Alaskan secession. Todd Palin, the Alaska governor’s husband, was a member of the party for seven years.
The Palins’ ties to the Alaskan Independence Party emerged Tuesday on the eve of John McCain’s running mate’s speech accepting the GOP nomination.
“Keep up the good work,” Sarah Palin told members of the Alaskan Independence Party in a videotaped speech to their convention six months ago in Fairbanks, Alaska. She wished the party luck on what she called its “inspiring convention.”
McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said Palin does not support an Alaskan split from the United States. But he sidestepped the question of whether she favored a statewide vote on secession.
“Governor Palin believes that every American is entitled to their point of view and their political beliefs,” he said.
Bounds also declined to answer directly the question of whether her husband supports Alaskan secession.
“I can tell you that Mr. Palin is a proud American,” Bounds said. “And he’s excited that his wife has joined John McCain to reform Washington and make government work more effectively for all Americans.”
For all but two months, the governor’s husband was registered as an Alaskan Independence Party member from 1995 until 2002, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.
With McCain’s campaign stressing patriotism – his latest slogan is “Country First” – the Palins’ links to a party founded by the late secessionist gold miner Joe Vogler could prove awkward.
“I’m an Alaskan, not an American,” Vogler said on the home page of the party’s Web site. “I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions.”
Founded in 1978, the party initially promoted “the Alaskan independence movement.” But now, according to the Web site, its primary goal is merely a vote on secession.
The party supports a plebiscite on four options that it says Alaskans were entitled to vote upon before becoming a state in 1959: form a sovereign nation of their own, become a state, accept commonwealth status similar to Puerto Rico’s, or remain a U.S. territory.
Leaders of the party say many of its 13,681 registered members have joined out of frustration over restrictions that the federal government has placed on use of its vast land holdings in Alaska. Beyond the secession vote, the party also advocates gun rights, home schooling and abolition of property taxes.
A question-and-answer page on its Web site asks, “Aren’t most Alaskan Independence Party members a bunch of radicals and Kooks?”
“The party has its share of individualists, in the grand Alaskan tradition,” the answer reads. “No longer a fringe party, the A.I.P. is a viable third party with a serious mission and qualified candidates for elected offices.”
Less than 3 percent of the state’s 479,721 registered voters are members of the party.
An AIP highpoint came in 1990, when Walter J. Hickel – a Republican governor of Alaska in the late 1960s – won the job again as the Alaskan Independence Party’s candidate. But he returned months later to the GOP.
Palin and her husband attended AIP’s 1994 convention at a Best Western in Wasilla, Alaska, said former Chairman Mark Chryson, a computer repairman who is now the party’s webmaster. A former mayor of Wasilla, Palin also spoke to the party’s convention in the same hotel in 2006 when she was running for governor, Chryson said.
Dexter Clark, the Alaskan Independence Party’s vice chairman, brought up Palin’s ties to the group in videotaped remarks to the Second North American Secessionist Convention last October in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“She was an AIP member before she got the job as the mayor of a small town,” Clark told the group. “That was a nonpartisan job. But you get along to go along. She eventually joined the Republican Party.”
McCain’s campaign distributed Palin’s voter registration records Tuesday to show she had never been a member of the AIP. The Alaska Division of Elections confirmed that Palin has been registered as a Republican since 1982.
McCain’s campaign also slammed ABC News for posting a Web story saying that Palin had been a member of the party, calling the report a “smear.”