In the past few days, during Sarah Palin’s rough introduction to the American public, it has been reported (first by ABC News) that Palin, the governor of Alaska tapped by John McCain to be his running mate, was once a member of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP). This minor third party advocates for the secession of Alaska from the United States. It is affiliated with the Constitution Party, which supports the reign of Biblical common law. If Palin has indeed been an AIP true-believer, it would be rather curious: she would be a vice presidential candidate who favored reducing the size of the United States.
But it is getting harder to make that case. The McCain-Palin campaign on Tuesday released voter registration to show she was never registered to vote in Alaska as a member of the party. And a key source for the stories about Palin and the AIP backed off his account in an interview with Mother Jones. Palin’s husband has been a long-time AIP member, but ascertaining her true association with the party has been difficult.
In recent press reports, Lynette Clark, the AIP’s chairman, has been quoted as saying Palin was at an AIP convention in 1994 and was an official party member at the time. Other sources within the party tell Mother Jones that the only way to become a member of the AIP is to register to vote with the AIP. Yet the state of Alaska released records confirming what the McCain-Palin campaign had maintained: Palin never registered as an AIP member.
What explains the contradiction between Clark’s claim and the records? Dexter Clark, husband of Lynette and a vice chairman of the Alaska Independence Party, said that when his wife told reporters that Palin had been an AIP member she was “acting on information from Mark Chryson,” the party’s regional chair for Wasilla, Palin’s hometown. The 1994 convention was held in Wasilla, where Palin was a city councilmember at the time. Chryson “has repeatedly said to me personally and my wife, Lynette, and groups of party members at large, that at that 1994 convention, Sarah and Todd Palin attended and registered as members,” Dexter Clark told Mother Jones.
Asked how Palin could have been a member, when state records did not indicate Palin ever registered as an AIP member, Chyrson, in an interview with Mother Jones, backed off his account. “What could have been the confusion—her husband was a member of the party. He was at the convention. She could have been considered—it might have been thought she was a member then.” Talking Points Memo has reported that Todd Palin was a member of the AIP from 1995 to 2002, with the exception of a short period in 2000 when he was undeclared.
Chyrson said he did not remember seeing Sarah Palin at the 1994 convention: “I don’t, no. I was working behind the scenes. Back then I was only vaguely familiar with her. I would not have recognized her. I had just met her. I probably would not have recognized her.” He added that Sarah Palin did not play “an active role in the party” or to speak out for its causes.
Not being registered as an AIP member did not keep some Alaskans from being supporters of the party and its aims. Jack Coghill, the lieutenant governor of Alaska from 1990 to 1994 and a candidate for governor in 1994 on the AIP ticket, told Mother Jones that being friendly with the AIP and a registered Republican was “common” in the 1990s. Might Palin had had a similar relationship with the party? Given her husband’s long-time membership in the group, Palin was likely aware of the group’s tenets. And in 2008, as governor, she submitted a welcoming video to the AIP convention in Fairbanks. “Your party plays an important role in our state’s politics,” she said. “I’ve always said that competition is so good, and that applies to political parties as well… We have a great promise: to be a self-sufficient state.” She closed by saying, “Good luck on a successful and inspiring convention. Keep up the good work, and God bless you.”
Having a vice presidential candidate associated in any way with a party that boasts the slogan “Alaska First — Alaska Always” could be a problem for McCain, whose slogan is “Country First.” There’s no documentary evidence now that Palin was a member. But the question lingers: was she a fellow traveler?