This an informative article I found written by journalist Scott Lilly. It raises some more poignant questions about Palin’s supposed “executive” experience.
Despite all of the discussion of Sarah Palin’s performance as governor of Alaska, there has been little analysis of the simplest measure of performance: attendance. As Woody Allen said many years ago, “80 percent of success is just showing up.”
The Washington Post recently reported that, in her first 19 months as governor, Palin billed the state of Alaska per diem charges for 312 days she spent at her home in Wasilla. Palin’s staff has explained that it was appropriate to bill the state for expenses related to Palin staying in her own house because her “official duty station” was at the state capital of Juneau, where the governor’s official office and mansion are located. But that argument raises a different question: How much time did that leave for her to spend at her “official duty station”?
Nineteen months totals 578 days, but after subtracting weekends and holidays, it is only about 397 workdays. Assuming Palin did not routinely bill the state for staying in her own home on weekends and holidays, she would have spent no more than 85 workdays in the state capital over the course of her 19 months in office, even if she traveled nowhere else in Alaska or outside of the state. That compares with 168 days that the Alaska Legislature was in session during the same period.
One of the state’s leading papers, the Juneau Empire, described her attendance like this:
“Palin has spent little time in Juneau, rarely coming to the state capital except when the Legislature was in session, and sometimes not even then. During a recent special session called by Palin herself, she faced criticism from several legislators for not showing up personally to push for her agenda. Someone at the Capitol even printed up buttons asking, ‘Where’s Sarah?’”
Why does the governor of Alaska need to be in the state capital? There are two big reasons — and probably many smaller ones. The first big reason is that she appoints most of the people who manage the 15 departments of Alaska’s state government, containing more than 100 divisions and employing more than 50,000 people. Nearly all the department heads and division directors are headquartered in Juneau. E-mails and telephone calls alone are not effective for the governor to get advice, give directions and follow up to ensure that appropriate policy is being implemented. It is obvious that the ability to fully monitor the performance of the bureaucracies any governor has chosen to lead is greatly restricted if the governor does not spend significant time on the ground where the operations of government are housed.
But also of great importance is the governor’s ability to work with the legislature to update state policies and offer new programs for improving governance. Any effective governor must work on an ongoing basis with not only the leadership of both houses in the state legislature to build consensus and draft the governor’s proposals into language that both houses can accept, but also committee chairmen and recalcitrant members whose votes are needed to support key portions of the governor agenda.
It appears that in the upside-down situation that has occurred in Juneau over the past year and a half, almost all of the members of the Alaska Legislature were in the state capital far more often than the governor.
One member told the Juneau Empire, “At a time when [Palin’s] leadership was truly needed, we didn’t know where she was.”
One has to wonder whether the chef at the governor’s mansion that Palin takes credit for firing may not have simply left the job out of sheer boredom.
When I was first out of college, I worked for a period as a bill drafter for the Missouri Legislature. At that time, it was the practice for the governor to apportion thousands of state patronage jobs to members of the Legislature to pass on to their political supporters. Although some of these jobs paid little more than minimum wage, they were very much in demand because they were so-called no-show jobs: You could collect your paycheck without regularly reporting for work. Some individuals were able to obtain two or three such jobs and still work outside of state government as a real estate broker, bank employee or in some other private sector job.
Hopefully, Missouri’s and all state governments have fully abandoned such corrupt and wasteful practices. But every governor faces an ongoing challenge to ensure that each employee provides a full day of work for a full day of pay. That challenge is certainly greater if the governor is found infrequently at the “official duty station.” It is still greater if state employees realize the governor is being rewarded with state revenue for staying at home.