Palin On Diversity And Civil Rights: Nada, Nothing, No

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

Palin Has No Record on Diversity or Civil Rights
Posted September 4, 2008
New America Media
Commentary by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There’s no record that Alaska Governor and Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin uttered anything more than the obligatory complimentary congratulations to the woman that beat her out for the Miss Alaska title in 1984. The winner was Maryline Blackburn, an African-American. A ritual congratulatory wish from Palin would have been about the only public acknowledgement to date from her in an instance, in this case a beauty contest, where Palin was confronted with the issue of diversity in the person of a competitor.

Since then, Palin’s record on race and diversity has been the blankest of blank sheets. The probes into Palin’s record on diversity and civil rights have almost exclusively focused on her views on gay rights, gay marriage and equal pay. These are crucial civil rights issues. But so are racial diversity and civil rights. The Web site OntheIssues.org gives a comprehensive look at the positions of elected officials on the major issues based on their statements, speeches, campaign materials and policy position papers. Palin has taken no position on immigration, affirmative action, job and housing discrimination, school re-segregation, police-minority community relations, and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

The site did list two terse positions Palin took on hate crimes legislation and cultural diversity. Both give a tiny window into the would-be vice president’s thinking on diversity and civil rights. During the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, she told the Eagle Forum that she opposed expanded hate crime legislation. She branded all heinous crimes as hate crimes. This view of what constitutes a hate crime goes squarely against the wide body of law and public policy that defines a hate crime as a willful act or threat based solely on racial, gender or religious animus. By lumping common crimes, no matter how repulsive, into the hate crime category, Palin would effectively gut enforcement of federal hate crime laws.

In her gubernatorial campaign booklet in 2006, Palin gave her equally terse view of discrimination. She simply said that she and her gubernatorial running mate value cultural diversity and would provide opportunities for all Alaskans. She made no mention of affirmative action, job discrimination, and the enforcement of civil rights laws.

Palin made no mention of Alaska’s affirmative action plan. It’s been in place since 1998 and mandates that the state make special efforts to ensure that veterans, especially disabled veterans, have equal access to state jobs. Presumably, Palin backs the plan. Yet, she makes no mention on her Web site or any other place what her office has done to enforce the state’s tightly constricted affirmative action plan.

Knowing Palin’s views on race and civil rights, whatever they are, is more than just a matter political one-upmanship. If elected, her views will carry much weight when it comes to making and enforcing legal and public policies that affect minorities and women.

That’s certainly been true in her home state. Alaska’s Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts make up more than 15 percent of the state’s population. Indian activist groups there have protested discrimination and disparities in health and education, and also over their hunting and fishing rights. There is no record that Palin has spoken out on their plight.

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, his VP running mate Joe Biden, and Palin’s Republican running mate John McCain come from states that have diverse populations. In the Senate they have spoken out on, taken positions on, and haggled over legislation on immigration, hate crimes, affirmative action, job discrimination and education disparities. They are keenly sensitive to the importance of civil rights and diversity issues.

The same has been true even with Bush. Before his election in 2000, he promised to make cultural diversity the watchword in the GOP. That year, and in his reelection bid in 2004, he courted black conservatives and independents. He promised to boost minority business, HIV/AIDS funding, and programs for failing inner city public schools; praised the Voting Rights Act; and on occasion spoke out against racially motivated violence.

McCain and Palin, if elected, will likely have to do the same. They will also face sharp challenges on affirmative action, police misconduct, job discrimination, racial disparities in drug laws, and school funding. They will also be called on to make administrative and court appointments that reflect diversity.

Democrats, much of the media, and a big segment of the public have pounded Palin for her non-existent experience and public pronouncements on foreign policy and national security matters. But she has been absolutely expansive on these issues in comparison to her past and present mute silence about diversity and civil rights.

During her tenure as Alaska governor, Palin didn’t have to say or do much about civil rights. She does now. And we shouldn’t have to wait for her to get to the White House before she does. That’s too great a risk for the country.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).

The Pastor Who Clashed With Palin: She Wanted to Ban His Book

Baptist minister Howard Bess, who wrote a book Palin wanted banned and who fought her on abortion and gay rights, says the country should fear her election.

September 15, 2008

Salon.com

By David Talbot

: News

Inset: Howard Bess

 Sept. 15, 2008 | WASILLA, Alaska — The Wasilla Assembly of God, the evangelical church where Sarah Palin came of age, was still charged with excitement on Sunday over Palin’s sudden ascendance. Pastor Ed Kalnins warned his congregation not to talk with any journalists who might have been lurking in the pews — and directly warned this reporter not to interview any of his flock. But Kalnins and other speakers at the service reveled in Palin’s rise to global stardom.

It confirmed, they said, that God was making use of Wasilla. “She will take our message to the world!” rejoiced an Assembly of God youth ministry leader, as the church band rocked the high-vaulted wooden building with its electric gospel.

That is what scares the Rev. Howard Bess. A retired American Baptist minister who pastors a small congregation in nearby Palmer, Wasilla’s twin town in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley, Bess has been tangling with Palin and her fellow evangelical activists ever since she was a Wasilla City Council member in the 1990s. Recently, Bess again found himself in the spotlight with Palin, when it was reported that his 1995 book, “Pastor, I Am Gay,” was among those Palin tried to have removed from the Wasilla Public Library when she was mayor.

“She scares me,” said Bess. “She’s Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.

“At this point, people in this country don’t grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology.”

Bess — a fit-looking, 80-year-old man in a gray University of Illinois sweatshirt and blue jeans – spoke with me over coffee at the Vagabond Blues, a cafe in Palmer with a stunning view of the nearby snow-capped Chugach Mountains. The retired minister moved to the Mat-Su Valley with his wife, Darlene, in 1987, after his outspoken defense of gay rights at Baptist churches in the Santa Barbara, Calif., area and Anchorage landed him in trouble with church officials. In the Mat-Su Valley, Bess plunged into community activism, helping launch an assortment of projects, from an arts council to a shelter for the mentally disabled.

Inevitably, his work brought him into conflict with Palin and other highly politicized Christian fundamentalists in the valley. “Things got very intense around here in the ’90s — the culture war was very hot here,” Bess said. “The evangelicals were trying to take over the valley. They took over the school board, the community hospital board, even the local electric utility. And Sarah Palin was in the direct center of all these culture battles, along with the churches she belonged to.”

QuantcastBess’ first run-in with Palin’s religious forces came when he decided to write his book, “Pastor, I Am Gay.” The book was the result of a theological journey that began in the 1970s when Bess was asked for guidance by a closeted homosexual in his Santa Barbara congregation. After deep reflection on the subject, Bess came to the conclusion that “gay people were not sick, nor they were special sinners.”

In his book, Bess suggests that gays have a divine mission. “Look back at the life of our Lord Jesus. He was misunderstood, deserted, unjustly accused, and cruelly killed. Yet we all confess that it was the will of God, for by his wounds we are healed … Could it be that the homosexual, obedient to the will of God, might be the church’s modern day healer-messiah?”

When it was published in 1995, Bess’ book caused an immediate storm in the Mat-Su Valley, an evangelical stronghold dotted with storefront churches. Conservative ministers targeted the book, and the only bookstore in the valley that dared to stock it — Shalom Christian Books and Gifts – soon dropped it after the owner was barraged with angry phone calls. The Frontiersman, the local newspaper that ran a column by Bess for seven years, fired him and ran a vicious cartoon that suggested even drooling child molesters would be welcomed by Bess’ church.

And after she became mayor of Wasilla, according to Bess, Sarah Palin tried to get rid of his book from the local library. Palin now denies that she wanted to censor library books, but Bess insists that his book was on a “hit list” targeted by Palin. “I’m as certain of that as I am that I’m sitting here. This is a small town, we all know each other. People in city government have confirmed to me what Sarah was trying to do.”