By KYLE HOPKINS
Anchorage Daily News
September 18, 2008
So who's running Alaska while Gov. Sarah Palin runs for vice president?
Palin's cabinet members insisted this week that the buck still stops with the governor. Several of them said they communicate with Palin through e-mail or through her chief of staff, who talks with the governor daily, adding that it helps this is a relatively slow time of year for state government.
Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell said he's filling in for Palin at some speaking engagements, taking a bigger role in budget-making and setting the governor's legislative agenda.
"She is just as much in charge as she ever was," spokesman Bill McAllister said.
Still, there are only so many hours in a day, and Palin is suddenly one of the most high-profile people on the planet. And she's a long way from Alaska.
"The rigors of campaigning are tough, and there's just no denying that it's going to be a time crunch for her, and she's going to have to find time in the day to be governor," said John Bitney, a former Palin aide who is now chief of staff for Alaska's House Speaker John Harris.
On the other hand, he said, "We just stand so much to gain by having Sarah Palin be out there talking about Alaska and presenting Alaska in a very positive light."
Palin briefly returned to Alaska late last week, including a short, unpublicized visit to her Anchorage office Friday, McAllister said.
That day, the state announced the selection of a new public safety commissioner, Joe Masters.
Masters said he talked to Palin for about a half-hour on the phone Friday before the announcement. A selection committee interviewed him previously, he said.
"She seemed very engaged and focused on what we were discussing," Masters said. Some commissioners said they haven't actually spoken to Palin since her selection by McCain on Aug. 29 but said that's not necessarily unusual.
Chief of Staff Mike Nizich and Kris Perry, director of the governor's Anchorage office, traveled with Palin when she was first selected by McCain. Perry and Nizich are now back in Alaska, and the governor's office says no state employees are currently traveling with Palin.
The presidential election is Nov. 4.
Asked when the governor will return to Alaska, McAllister kicked the question to the McCain/Palin campaign, which declined to answer.
Two days after McCain announced her as his running mate, Palin said she would still be governor and was "used to multi-tasking."
Palin's bid for vice president pulls her out of state for at least two months. The state Legislature is not in session and doesn't meet again until after the election.
Palin's team is preparing to put together the next state budget, which is due Dec. 15. For now, that means the Office of Management and Budget is meeting with various state agencies to talk about spending, said budget director Karen Rehfeld.
By late October or early November, Rehfeld said, the administration will start making decisions about what to include in the spending plan. She expects to work closely with Nizich, the chief of staff.
McAllister noted that George Bush and Bill Clinton both ran in presidential races as sitting governors. He did not respond to requests for copies of recent Palin e-mails that could illustrate her decision-making from the trail.
Asked if she's worried Palin will be out of pocket during the budget-making process, Rehfeld said no.
"Once we get to the decision points, I'm sure we'll be able to get with her and go through this," she said.
For now, the governor's personal office in Anchorage remains open, even if Palin's not there, McAllister said.
"The door is open," he said. "And I see the bear skin's still on the couch."
E-mail Kyle Hopkins at khopkins(at)adn.com
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