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Profile: John C. Stein
John C. Stein was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sarah Palin during her tenure on Wasilla’s City Council. [Source: Sarah Palin Truth Squad (.com)]Wasilla, Alaska, City Council member Sarah Palin, a 32-year-old former sportscaster and current housewife, challenges three-term incumbent John C. Stein for mayor. Wasilla is a small town of less than 5,000 residents; Palin is popular among residents for her success in beauty pageants and for her history as a point guard on the 1982 Wasilla High School state basketball championship team. Before the Palin campaign, mayoral elections have focused relentlessly on local issues, such as paving dirt roads and putting in sewers. Personal campaigning revolved around who went hunting with who. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/23/2006; New York Times, 9/2/2008; Anchorage Daily News, 9/2/2008] Instead, Palin, guided by advisers such as Mark Chryson of the Alaskan Independent Party (AIP—see October 10, 2008), runs an unusually negative campaign against Stein. Her campaign slogan is “Positively Sarah.” Palin emphasizes her stance against abortion, her membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA), and her church work. She runs as an outsider against what she calls an “old boy network” that has controlled Wasilla’s government long enough. She vows to replace “stale leadership” and a “tax-and-spend” mentality with “fresh ideas and energy,” and, in campaign literature, complains that citizens asking city leaders for help routinely encounter “complacency, inaction, and even total disregard.” The Alaska Republican Party runs advertisements on Palin’s behalf, a first in Wasilla politics as Alaska municipal politics are officially nonpartisan. Palin also mounts a stinging negative campaign against Stein, including insinuations that he, a Lutheran, is a secret Jew. “Sarah comes in with all this ideological stuff and I was like, ‘Whoa,’” Stein will later recall. “But that got her elected: abortion, gun rights, term limits, and the religious born-again thing. I’m not a churchgoing guy, and that was another issue: ‘We will have our first Christian mayor.’” Of the Jewish campaign theme, Stein will recall: “I thought: ‘Holy cow, what’s happening here? Does that mean she thinks I’m Jewish or Islamic?‘… The point was that she was a born-again Christian.” Stein, who is pro-choice, remembers a “national anti-abortion outfit sen[ding] little pink cards to voters in Wasilla endorsing her.” Victoria Naegele, the managing editor of the local Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper and herself a conservative Christian, will later recall: “[Stein] figured he was just going to run your average, friendly small-town race. But it turned into something much different than that.… I just thought, ‘That’s ridiculous, she should concentrate on roads, not abortion.’” Palin wins with 638 votes, a 58 percent majority. A local TV station calls her Wasilla’s “first Christian mayor,” though Stein is a Christian as well. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/23/2006; New York Times, 9/2/2008; Time, 9/2/2008; Seattle Times, 9/7/2008; Washington Post, 9/14/2008] Palin has a tumultuous first term as mayor (see Late 1996 - 1999).
Sarah Palin, taking the oath of office as mayor, 1997. [Source: New York Times]Wasilla, Alaska, City Council member Sarah Palin becomes Mayor of Wasilla after running a groundbreakingly negative political campaign (see Mid and Late 1996). In her term, she focuses on town development and personal politics. Palin supporters will say that she helps Wasilla develop from a small backwater into a fast-growing suburb, almost doubling its population during her term and bringing in large “box stores” such as Target. Critics will say that she leads the overdevelopment and exploitation of a town that was largely homesteaded farmland before her arrival. Palin weathers a brief attempt at a recall, in part because of town leaders’ fears of retaliation: She quickly becomes known for using her position for exacting revenge against her personal and political enemies. Council member Anne Kilkenny, a Democrat, will later remember Palin’s efforts to get books banned from the Wasilla library. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Kilkenny will recall. Town librarian Mary Ellen Emmons, later described by former mayor John C. Stein as “aghast” at Palin’s requests, resists Palin’s efforts at what Kilkenny will call “censorship,” and Palin promptly fires her. After residents protest, Palin relents and allows Emmons to retake the position, and drops her call to ban the library books; in late 1996, Palin tells a local reporter that her talk of banning books was merely “rhetorical.” Once in office, Palin demands that many of Stein’s supporters and appointees in city government resign, an unprecedented event in town history. She forces the public works director, city planner, museum director, and others to resign, and fires Police Chief Irl Stambaugh, who will lose a wrongful termination lawsuit in 2000. (Stambaugh will later say that part of the reason why Palin fires him is because she tells him “the NRA [National Rifle Association, a powerful Palin supporter] didn’t like me and that they wanted change.” Palin also informs Stambaugh that he “stared” at her during their meetings and attempted to be “physically intimidating.”) Palin packs city government with figures from the area Republican Party, sometimes including wives and relatives, and responds to a question about running city government without experienced government personnel by saying: “It’s not rocket science. It’s $6 million and 53 employees.” She attempts to replace two council members with persons she knows, though the mayor does not have that legal power. She issues an edict forbidding city employees from talking to anyone in the press without her authorization. Victoria Naegele, the editor of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, will recall: “It was just things you don’t ever associate with a small town. It was like we were warped into real politics instead of just, ‘Do you like Joe or Mary for the job?’ It was a strange time and [the Frontiersman] came out very harshly against her.” Going against her stance on cutting taxes and restricting spending, Palin forces through a half-cent raise in the local sales tax to pay for a $15 million sports complex that hosts, among other local teams, a junior league hockey team, but the city will later have to pay more than $1.3 million to settle an ownership dispute over the site. And again going against her stated distaste for taking federal money, she makes frequent trips to Washington to lobby for federal funds for local rail projects and a mental health center, among other initiatives. In 1999, Palin will become president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/23/2006; New York Times, 9/2/2008; Time, 9/2/2008; Seattle Times, 9/7/2008; Washington Post, 9/14/2008] Palin will use her second and final term as mayor as a springboard to higher office (see January 2000 - 2002).
Sarah Palin, after a tumultuous first term as mayor of Wasilla (see Late 1996 - 1999), easily beats her opponent, former mayor John C. Stein, 909-292. (The election was actually held on October 5, 1999, but Palin does not officially begin her second term until early in 2000.) One of her second-term campaign promises is to cut spending by cutting her own salary; she indeed cuts her salary from $68,000 to $64,000, but adds a new employee, city administrator John Cramer, to the payroll, dramatically increasing expenditures. Cramer has close ties to powerful Republican lawmaker Lyda Green, and Green endorsed Palin for the mayorality, though she will withdraw that support when Palin later runs for governor. Ironically, Cramer works to ease tensions in Wasilla during Palin’s second and final term. Palin’s deputy mayor Dave Chappel will later say: “When I first met Sarah, I would say Sarah was a Republican, with the big R, and that’s it. As she developed politically, she began to see beyond the R and look at the whole picture. She matured.” Palin also hires a lobbyist to represent Wasilla in the nation’s capital (see 2000). She fires Cramer as one of her final acts as mayor in 2002. When her stepmother-in-law, Faye Palin, declares her candidacy to succeed her daughter-in-law, Palin, citing Faye Palin’s support for abortion rights and her status as unaffiliated (i.e. not a Republican), refuses to support her, instead throwing her support to council ally and religious conservative Dianne Keller. [City of Wasilla, 10/5/1999; Anchorage Daily News, 10/23/2006; New York Times, 9/2/2008; Seattle Times, 9/7/2008] A former city council member will later recall the 2002 Keller-Palin election as contentious, largely because of the controversy over abortion; “People were writing BABYKILLER on Faye’s campaign signs just a few days before the election,” the council member will recall. [Time, 9/2/2008]
Leaves Wasilla with Increased Taxation, Large Debt - During her two terms, Palin increases general government expenditures by over a third, increases the operating budget by over a third after adjusting for inflation, increases the tax burden on Wasilla residents and businesses by 25 percent after adjusting for inflation, reduces property taxes in favor of a regressive sales tax, and while inheriting a budget with zero debt, leaves Wasilla with an indebtness of over $23 million. Keller, who will continue as mayor through 2008, will say that much of the debt and tax increases are due to Wasilla’s growth during Palin’s tenure. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/31/2008]
On to Governorship - Palin will lose her first attempt at gaining statewide office, coming in second in the 2002 Republican primary for lieutenant governor. She will not succeed in persuading Governor Frank Murkowski (R-AK) to appoint her to complete his term in the US Senate, a seat which will go to Murkowski’s daughter Lisa (R-AK) instead. In 2003, Governor Murkowski will appoint Palin to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. She will leave the commission in 2004 over claims that it is behaving unethically, and will defeat Murkowski in 2006, becoming governor of Alaska. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/2/2008]
Entity Tags: Steve Ellis, Sarah Palin, Lisa Murkowski, John Cramer, Lyda Green, Frank Murkowski, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Dave Chappel, Dianne Keller, John C. Stein, Faye Palin
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Domestic Propaganda
Alaskan Independence Party logo. [Source: Alaskan Independence Party]Reporters and authors Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert compile an investigative report for Salon that documents the large, if shadowy, network of far-right militia support that Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) enjoys. Palin is running for vice president with presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ). Two of her most powerful supporters are Mark Chryson, the former head of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), and Steve Stoll, a far-right activist and member of the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) known in his home region of the Mat-Su Valley as “Black Helicopter Steve.” Both Chryson and Stoll are large financial contributors to Palin’s various political campaigns, and, as Blumenthal and Neiwert write, “they played major behind-the-scenes roles in the Palin camp before, during, and after her victory,” referring to her successful campaigns for mayor of Wasilla (see Mid and Late 1996) and, later, Alaska’s governor. Chryson’s AIP fought to eliminate taxes, support what it called “traditional family” values, remove all restraints from gun ownership, and perhaps most controversially, force Alaska to secede from the United States. Still a proud AIP member, Chryson tells the reporters that he still has “enough weaponry to raise a small army in my basement,” but assures the rest of the nation, “We want to go our separate ways, but we are not going to kill you.” Under Chryson’s leadership and on into the present, the AIP works to connect with like-minded secessionist movements from Canada to the Deep South of the US. Chryson is from Wasilla, Palin’s hometown, and during the 1990s his support was critical in making Palin the mayor of Wasilla and later the governor of Alaska. He and Stoll played an equally critical role in shaping her political agenda after her victories. Governor Palin often worked closely with Chryson as he and the AIP worked to successfully advance a wave of anti-tax, pro-gun legislative initiatives, and helped Chryson put through a change in Alaska’s Constitution to better facilitate the formation of anti-government militias. As both mayor and governor, Palin and Chryson worked together to extract revenge against local officials they disliked. Palin often took Chryson and Stoll’s advice on hiring government officials. “Every time I showed up [in Wasilla] her door was open,” Chryson says. “And that policy continued when she became governor.”
Originally Saw Palin as Too Accomodating with Democrats - Chryson first met Palin in the early 1990s, when he was a member of a local libertarian pressure group called SAGE, or Standing Against Government Excess. He met her through SAGE founder Tammy McGraw, who was Palin’s birth coach. Palin was a leader in a pro-sales tax citizens group called WOW, or Watch Over Wasilla, which helped her win a seat on the Wasilla City Council in 1992. Chryson liked her, but considered her too willing to work with council Democrats to be of use to him. Chryson was then jockeying to become head of the AIP, a powerful political party that in 1990 had elected Wally Hickel (AIP-AK) as governor; Palin wanted to be mayor of Wasilla. Chryson and Palin quickly determined that they could help one another. Chryson became leader of the AIP in 1997, and saw Palin as a chance for the AIP to take its message more mainstream. He helped quiet the more racist members and platform planks of the AIP, and reached out to Alaska’s growing Christian-right movement by emphasizing AIP’s commitment to “traditional family” values and its opposition to gay rights. Chryson even succeeded in softening the AIP’s insistence on secession. Chryson is an expert at crafting his political message to appeal to disparate groups, and succeeded in forging alliances with white supremacists, far-right theocrats, neo-Confederates, and more moderate right-wing groups that do not advocate open racism, rebellion, Christian theocracy, or violence. In 1995, Palin’s husband Todd joined the AIP, further cementing Chryson’s increasing support of Palin.
Palin Secured AIP Support for Mayorality - With Stoll, Chryson helped gain Palin the mayorship of Wasilla in the 1996 election, comforted by Palin’s steady move rightward as she continued her tenure on the city council. Palin’s opponent in that election, Republican John Stein, will later say of Chryson and Stoll: “She got support from these guys. I think smart politicians never utter those kind of radical things, but they let other people do it for them. I never recall Sarah saying she supported the militia or taking a public stand like that. But these guys were definitely behind Sarah, thinking she was the more conservative choice.… They worked behind the scenes. I think they had a lot of influence in terms of helping with the back-scatter negative campaigning.” Chryson helped Palin craft a successful campaign based on personal attacks on her opponents, both Stein and her Democratic opponent. Palin characterized Stein as a closet Jew and a sexist, both mischaracterizations, and falsely challenged the legal status of his marriage. Wasilla resident Phil Munger, a close friend of Stein’s, recalls, “I watched that campaign unfold, bringing a level of slime our community hadn’t seen until then.” Chryson helped Palin thwart a local gun-control measure (see June 1997). Chryson and Palin attempted to name Stoll to an empty seat on the Wasilla City Council, but were thwarted by another councilman, Nick Carney, who considered Stoll too “violent” to be a successful council member.
Implementing AIP Agenda as Governor - Chryson recalls helping Governor Palin slash property taxes and block a measure that would have taken money for public programs from the Permanent Fund Dividend, or the oil and gas fund that doles out annual payments to citizens of Alaska. Palin endorsed Chryson’s unsuccessful initiative to move the state legislature from Juneau to Wasilla. She was successful at helping Chryson get pro-militia and gun-rights language into the Alaska Constitution. In 2006, Chryson helped Palin bring Hickel on board as the co-chairman of her gubernatorial campaign; Hickel’s presence meant the implicit endorsement of the AIP for Palin’s candidacy. Hickel later said of his support, “I made her governor.” Hickel now supports Palin’s bid for the vice-presidency, spurred in part by her explicit endorsement of the AIP agenda (see March 2008).
Infiltrating the Mainstream - Chryson has long advocated that AIP members “infiltrate” both Republican and Democratic parties, and points to Palin as a model of successful infiltration. “There’s a lot of talk of her moving up,” AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark says of Palin. “She was a member [of the AIP] when she was mayor of a small town, that was a nonpartisan job. But to get along and to go along she switched to the Republican Party.… She is pretty well sympathetic because of her membership.” It is possible, Blumenthal and Neiwert speculate, that Clark saw Palin as so closely aligned with Chryson and the AIP that he wrongly assumed she was an official member. Chryson understands that as a vice-presidential candidate, Palin has no intention of espousing secessionist or racist views. Indeed, he hopes that her inauguration will represent the beginning of a new and deeper infiltration. “I’ve had my issues but she’s still staying true to her core values,” Chryson says. “Sarah’s friends don’t all agree with her, but do they respect her? Do they respect her ideology and her values? Definitely.” [Salon, 10/10/2008] In the days after this article appears, the McCain-Palin campaign will confirm that Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, and claim that she was never a member of AIP. AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will say that her husband Dexter’s recollection of Palin as an official AIP member is mistaken, and reiterate that she and AIP support Palin fully in her bid for the vice presidency. [ABC News, 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party, 9/3/2008]
Entity Tags: Wally Hickel, Watch Over Wasilla, Steve Stoll, Standing Against Government Excess, Sarah Palin, Phil Munger, David Neiwert, Dexter Clark, John Birch Society, John C. Stein, Alaskan Independence Party, Mark Chryson, Nick Carney, Max Blumenthal, Lynette Clark
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
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