Sen. Tom Coburn, the chief foe of the “Bridge to Nowhere,” said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin deserves credit for killing the project, which became the symbol of Washington pork-barrel spending.
“The bridge didn’t get built because Sarah Palin had the guts to say it wasn’t going to get built,” said Mr. Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who was the fiercest critic of the bridge and tried but failed to have Congress strike it.
He said he sees an ally in Mrs. Palin.
“My conversations with her, I have no doubt she will be strong, 100 percent in my camp, in [South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim] DeMint’s camp, as far as [opposition to] earmarks and spending.”
With scrutiny of Mrs. Palin going into overdrive, the Republican vice-presidential nominee defended herself to ABC News. Facing charges from Democrats she first supported, then later backed away from the bridge, she said she never fought for the bridge, but rather for infrastructure in general.
“I was for infrastructure being built in the state. And it’s not inappropriate for a mayor or for a governor to request and to work with their Congress and their congressmen, their congresswomen, to plug into the federal budget along with every other state a share of the federal budget for infrastructure,” she said in her third interview in two days with the network, the first series of interviews she’s given since joining the GOP ticket.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain has long been a critic of pork-barrel spending, known in Washington as earmarks, and said Mrs. Palin’s opposition to the bridge is one reason he tapped her to be his running mate.
Alaska’s congressional delegation fought hard to preserve the project, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. The bridge would have linked the mainland to Gravina Island, with a population of about 50 and which is the location of the Ketchikan International Airport. There is currently a ferry service to the island.
Mrs. Palin said inserting earmarks in spending bills is “un-American, it’s undemocratic, and it’s not going to be accepted in a McCain-Palin administration. Earmark abuse will stop.”
She told ABC she has “drastically reduced our earmark request since I came into office.”
In the interview, Mrs. Palin also defended herself against what has become known as “Troopergate” - the investigation into whether she or her husband pressured the state police to fire her sister’s ex-husband, and whether that was a factor in her firing the state police commissioner.
On Friday, the official inquiry, launched by the state legislature, issued 13 subpoenas, including one to Mrs. Palin’s husband, Todd.
Mrs. Palin said in the interview that the trooper in question threatened her family.
While originally saying she would cooperate with the legislative investigation, she has since said she wants the state personnel board to take up the inquiry to get it away from a politicized legislature.
“It’s been so politicized at this point, too, I think it’s turned into quite the political issue,” she said.
She said while her husband raised concerns about the trooper, neither of them tried to use undo influence on the police. “I never pressured [the commissioner] to hire or fire anybody,” she said.
On another front, Mrs. Palin also said Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is regretting not picking Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate.
“What determination, and grit, and even grace through some tough shots that were fired her way,” Mrs. Palin said.
Mrs. Palin’s record on the bridge has become symbolic of whether she can lay claim to the mantle of reformer that Mr. McCain and Republicans are trying to don this year.
Reporters have uncovered myriad earmark requests from Wasilla, Alaska, during the time Mrs. Palin was mayor, and the press has published quotes of her defending spending requests including the bridge during her run for governor.
And at the time she scuttled the bridge project, she said Congress wasn’t providing enough money to cover the increasing cost, and she said the money could be better spent elsewhere in the state.
Still, even state Democrats, in attacking the state’s senior senator, Republican Ted Stevens, credited Mrs. Palin with killing the bridge in opposition to Mr. Stevens’ wishes.
Earlier, on ABC’s “The View,” Mr. McCain seemed to stumble on Mrs. Palin’s earmark history, first telling the hosts she didn’t take earmarks as governor, then saying, “Look, well, the fact is, she’s a reform governor.”
In defending Mrs. Palin, Mr. Coburn said his staff had repeatedly talked with her office about how to handle the bridge.
He said her support for earmarks in general as mayor and governor was understandable because her party’s congressional delegation told her to ask for them.
“If you’re sitting out there running a state and running a city, and congressmen say, ‘What do you need, we’ll get it for you,’ you say, ‘Here’s what I need.’ ”
But he said since then, Mrs. Palin has shown she’s gotten the message.
“She’s come to the realization it’s not the total dollars of earmarks that are hurting us, it’s what earmarks cause us to do,” he said.
He noted that Mr. Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., both voted against a 2005 amendment Mr. Coburn offered to strike the bridge’s funding and redirect it to the Interstate 10 bridge ruined by Hurricane Katrina.
The Obama campaign said Mr. Coburn’s comments show Mrs. Palin did, at one time, support the bridge.