Alaska’s Blacks and Palin: a Strained Relationship

by LINN WASHINGTON, Jr.

While many across America consider GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin some kind of phenomenon, many blacks in Alaska see the Governor of their state as a person closing down the open-door inclusive posture of her predecessors.

Alaskan blacks fault Palin for not hiring African-Americans, dismissing blacks from government posts, spurning repeated requests to meet with black leaders to discuss issues of concern and refusing to attend that state’s major African-American celebration.

“Where past governors have attended [this celebration] Gov Palin has refused to attend or even send a staff member. They could have sent a gardener as their representative but they didn’t,” said Bishop James Thomas, a spokesman for Juneteenth, a state holiday in Alaska since 2001.

Juneteenth, recognizing the freeing slaves during Civil War, receives celebration nationwide. It holds distinction as the oldest African-American celebration. Twenty-nine states including Alaska recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday or an observance.

“For Gov Palin to blatantly ignore Juneteenth is a tragedy,” said Thomas, pastor of the non-denominational Jesus Holy Temple in Anchorage. “We are not criticizing her because Obama is running for president. If Obama was white, we would still criticize Palin due to our treatment here.”

Palin’s increasingly rocky relations with Alaska’s black community seeped down to the ‘Lower 48’ weeks ago following an internet posting by the President of Alaska’s African American Historical Society Gwendolyn Alexander detailing controversies like Juneteenth, Palin’s staffing practices and Palin allegedly stating she “doesn’t have to hire any blacks” for major projects.

Palin denies telling black leaders she did not intend to hire blacks in her state where African-Americans comprise 4% of the population.

Palin, through spokespersons, defends her staffing record citing that top aides and advisors include a Filipino, a Korean and a person of mixed African-American ancestry.

Given Palin’s penchant for hiring friends with not apparent qualifications for their high salaried government posts, the refrain of not being able to find ‘qualified minorities’ appears irrelevant. One frequently cited Palin appointment is her elevation of a high school classmate to the $95,000 a year post heading the State Division of Agriculture which Palin defended based on this real estate agent’s childhood love of cows.

Alaskan blogger Amy Jones stated in a post that she “tired to get specific information from the governor’s office, but no one could verify what minority representation there might be among Palin’s appointees on boards and commissions or how often she met with community organizations…”

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo B. Patterson chuckles at Palin’s claims of being color-blind, saying she’s “not sensitive to [having] African-Americans in her administration.”

Patterson, who’s worked closely with previous governors plus mayors and other elected officials during his 45-years in Alaska, feels Palin has “totally departed from the past practices” of previous Alaska governors.

“Past administrations have had black administrative assistants to the Governor, state Commissioners and department leaders,” said Patterson, who served as chair of Alaska’s Board of Paroles for 13-years.

Patterson heads the American Baptist Churches of Alaska and that state’s Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation. Earlier this year, Patterson participated in a meeting of black leaders with Palin. This meeting followed months of requests to Palin for a meeting.

“We gave her a list of concerns and have received no response,” said Patterson, pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Anchorage.

Concerns presented by this group included hiring minorities at all levels of state government plus contracting and employment practices in the upcoming pipeline construction project.

This group also invited Palin to participate in a town meeting during the summer with other racial and ethnic minorities in Alaska to discuss issues of import including economic growth, educational deficiencies, family disintegration and young gang problems. Palin spurned this invitation.

“She has not met with us since that March meeting,” Patterson said. “I think she was intimidated by us not being intimidated by her. From my perspective, she is basically a housewife who looses her temper when she’s not getting her way.”

A person from the area of Wasilla where Palin served as mayor said she’s very vindictive, a behavior pattern that chills criticism of her.
While commending Palin as an enchanting person with maverick ways, the person said “Sarah is not ready” for the office she holds or higher office. This person did note that Palin’s employment practices may not be as discriminatory as they appear because “she is devoted to her people and there are few blacks in Wasilla.”

Sarah Palin burst on the national stage as Senator McCain’s running mate during the GOP Convention that had the lowest number of black delegates in forty years.

With Palin’s failing relations with blacks in Alaska, some might cynically see this as part of her pick by McCain who’s received an F on the NAACP Congressional Report Card during 11 of the past 13 reporting periods. (During McCain’s two runs for president the NAACP provided no grade for McCain.)

McCain’s scores on supporting issues important to the NAACP ranks lower than conservative Senators Trent Lott of Mississippi and Orin Hatch of Utah.

Palin’s rocky relations with blacks mirrors relations with Alaska’s Native Peoples according to the September 12, 2008 Counterpunch article by Lloyd Miller.

Bishop Thomas and many others in Alaska feel “blacks are not being treated fairly” by Gov Palin.

“This governor does not deal with minorities well,” Thomas said. “We have to examine how she will act as Vice-President and if by chance she becomes President.”

Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune newspaper.

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