Alaskans See No Scandal in Palin's Routine Travel Reimbursements
The Post reported Tuesday that Palin “billed taxpayers for 312 nights ‘spent in her own home’ during her first 19 months in office,” charging the state a travel allowance – called a “per diem” – intended to cover meals, airfare, lodging, and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.
The Post noted that the governor also has charged the state for travel expenses to take her children on official out-of-town trips. And her husband, Todd, has billed the state for expenses and a daily allowance for trips he makes on official business for his wife.
Palin’s spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said the reimbursements were within the law, and commonplace.
Other Alaskans who follow politics in the nation’s northern-most state, agreed. In fact, the state’s senior political scientist bristled at the idea that Palin has done anything wrong.
Gerald McBeath, professor of political science at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and an expert on Alaska government and politics, rejected what he said was The Post’s clear – but unstated – implication: that Palin somehow bilked taxpayers.
McBeath said he doesn’t know the governor well – he’s met her – but she has every right, he said, under state travel policy to claim reimbursement, a policy that has been around “forever.”
“The state, or wherever you work, pays for your air ticket, and pays a per diem, and that’s it. It’s very simple,” McBeath said.
Like the legendary Alaskan grizzly bear, McBeath became testy when asked about the travel reimbursements. He told CNSNews.com that he’s had over 100 phone calls from journalists trying to get dirt on Palin.
“I have to be suspicious about your questions,” McBeath said. “What are you looking for? Are you implying that the governor has been unethical in her travel and not followed procedures?”
When CNSNews.com replied that the intent was simply to find out if such reimbursements were normal practice, McBeath’s response was matter-of-fact.
“The state’s practices are like that of most states,” McBeath said. “People are compensated for their travel costs. That includes the airfare or car fare, and (the state) pays them whatever it costs to keep them alive on the days that they are away from their official station. That’s normal.”
The distance between Anchorage – the state’s largest town and the site of a state office building where Palin maintains an office and works – and Juneau, the capital, is nearly 600 miles one way. That is roughly the same as the distance between Washington, D.C. and Lansing, Mich.
McBeath said Juneau is not accessible by car – only by sea and by air.
Anchorage, meanwhile, is but 45 miles away from Wasilla, Palin’s home town.
“When I go from Fairbanks, I fly to Anchorage, and then to Juneau, and whoever is supporting my trip pays for the airfare and gives me a per diem rate,” said McBeath. “That’s what the governor gets. That’s what we all get.”
Dermot Cole, a columnist with the Fairbanks News-Miner newspaper, told CNSNews.com that one reason why this might be an issue – especially for Palin opponents – is because Palin has chosen not to live in the governor’s mansion in Juneau.
“Previous governors have lived in Juneau, or at least spent most of their time in Juneau,” Cole said. “She’s the first governor who has divided her time in this way. Most governors have traveled a lot, but for the duration of their term, they’ve made Juneau their home base. She’s been subject to some criticism down there for not being in Juneau enough.”
Alaska has a governor’s house, not really a mansion, Cole said, but Palin and her family “have not stayed there very much.”
Juneau, meanwhile, is the official “duty station” for the governor’s office, and staying outside the capital entitles the governor to receive compensation.