For more than 30 years, a natural-gas pipeline had been the great white whale of Alaskan resource development. Tens of millions of dollars had been spent in the quest for it. The names of collapsed consortiums and failed legislative initiatives littered the tundra like the bleached horns of long-dead caribou. Then, last summer, Sarah Palin said she had harpooned the whale.
The oil giant is resistant to a shift to green energy.
"I fought to bring about the largest private-sector infrastructure project in North American history," Palin said at the Republican convention. "And when that deal was struck, we began a nearly $40 billion natural-gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence."
During the vice-presidential debate, she said it again: "We're building a nearly $40 billion natural-gas pipeline, which is North America's largest and most expensive infrastructure project ever."
And to Katie Couric, she said, "We should have started 10 years ago, but better late than never."
To many outside of Alaska, it may therefore come as a surprise to learn that not only does such a pipeline not exist, but--even as Alaska's deep winter darkness gives way to the first light of spring--the prospect that it will be built within Sarah Palin's lifetime grows dimmer by the day. ( View a slideshow hitting the highlights of Governor Palin's travels.)
Barack Obama wants the pipeline. It says so right on the White House website, in the section about energy and the environment: prioritize the construction of the alaska natural gas pipeline. But Obama might not realize that one of the biggest obstacles in its path--all Palin's rhetoric notwithstanding--is the woman who wants to take the presidency from him in 2012, Governor Sarah "Drill, Baby, Drill" Palin.
As Mike Hawker, the Republican co-chairman of Alaska's House Finance Committee, told me one night in Juneau not long ago, "The only thing standing in the way of an Alaska gas pipeline is the Sarah Palin administration."
And as former Governor Tony Knowles, a Democrat, told me over coffee one morning in Anchorage, "It's as if getting the gas pipeline built is only her second-highest priority. Her highest is making sure the oil companies don't build it."
You see, before she became the woman who John McCain said "knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States"--and long before she became the new darling of the newly disenfranchised far right--Sarah Palin had been a bare-knuckle backwoods populist who'd built a career out of puffing up dragons she could then slay. Her tactic was first to demonize, then to defeat. She'd ridden her luck for 10 years, from the Wasilla city council to the governorship. And when she became governor, in 2006, she found herself eyeball-to-eyeball with Alaska's most demonizable dragon of all--Big Oil.
How better to defang the industry that had ruled Alaska like a colonial master for 40 years than to make sure its major players would be no more than spectators at the state's next grand pageant, the building of a new pipeline that would carry natural gas from Alaska's North Slope to what Palin called the "hungry markets" of the Lower 48?
In her zeal, however, Palin overlooked one salient fact: It was Alaska's three largest oil producers--Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, and ConocoPhillips Co.--that controlled the natural gas the new pipeline would need if it were ever to pump anything more than hot air.
By writing the rules in a way that excluded the oil companies from the process, Palin--although she gained the short-term approval-rating points that made her seem attractive to McCain last summer--all but assured that the "largest private-sector infrastructure project in North America" would never be anything more than her personal field of dreams.
There is a considerable gap between the image Sarah Palin tries to project and the reality that underlies it. In sometimes startling fashion, her deeds often belie her words. And as I learned on a recent visit to Alaska, nowhere is this more evident than in the story of the still-chimerical gas pipeline.
There are certain basic facts about Alaska: It's big, it's beautiful, it's far away, the winters are cold and dark, and it far exceeds the national average in such categories as suicides, alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse, school dropouts, and percentage of the population likely to be found bearing one or more loaded firearms at any given hour of the day. But the most important fact about Alaska--the one that has done more to determine its destiny than all the others--is that underneath it lies a whole hell of a lot of oil.
Oil was Alaska's leading source of revenue even before Atlantic Richfield Co. made the first strike at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic coast in 1968. But it was Prudhoe, the biggest oil field in the United States--containing more than 20 billion barrels of oil and more than 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas--that transformed Alaska, which had been a state for less than 10 years, into a colony controlled by Big Oil.
I first went to Alaska in 1975, at the height of the oil boom, to write a book about it. More than 25,000 workers were building an 800-mile pipeline to carry the oil from Prudhoe Bay and the adjacent North Slope fields to Valdez, on Alaska's south coast. Thousands more were working on the slope itself. It seemed as if everybody who was already living in the state had quit what they'd been doing and gone after the big money being paid by Big Oil, and that most of the population of Texas had come up to join them. The Teamsters union alone was collecting more than $1 million a week in dues from Alaskan workers.
Crazy times. Wild times. Once-in-a-lifetime kind of times. Or maybe not. Maybe the gas line would bring it all back. I went out to Alaska to take a look.
The first thing I learned about the pipeline was that the reason nobody had built it in 30 years was that nobody could have made any money by doing so. Here's how it works: You decide to build a pipeline to carry gas from Point A to Point B, and you spend a couple of years scoping out a route and putting together a cost estimate. Then you have what in the gas business is called an open season, when you try to persuade whoever has gas to commit in advance to shipping it through your pipeline for, let's say, 25 years. Once you've signed up your shippers, you go to a bank, and the bank loans you the money you need to build the pipeline. Once you have your financing, you go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington and ask for a permit. They check your shipping commitments, your financing, and about a zillion other things, and if they like the way things look, they issue the permit. Then you build the line, and the gas starts to flow and keeps flowing for 25 years or more, and everybody makes a ton of money.
But with natural gas selling for less than $2 per million British thermal units, or MMBtu--which it had been for about 50 years--there was no way to make money building a $40 billion pipeline to carry it all the way from the North Slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska to Chicago, or Green Bay, Wisconsin, or Burnt Chitlin, Louisiana. Only in the past 10 years did the price climb above $3 per MMBtu, the lowest possible number at which an Alaskan pipeline might be feasible, according to experts in the natural-gas sector. (After spiking to more than $12 last summer, by February gas was down to about $4.75.)
In Alaska, another factor came into play. The gas was controlled by the same three companies--Exxon Mobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips--that were producing the oil at Prudhoe Bay. By injecting it into their oil wells to increase pressure, they'd been using the gas to up the production of oil, a far more valuable commodity. Only in the past several years, as the North Slope fields began to run dry--production at Prudhoe in 2008 was only one-third of its peak output, in 1979--had the three companies begun to consider selling their natural gas.
That was when Sarah Palin reared her head.
She saw the launching of a natural-gas-pipeline project as a God-given opportunity to prove herself bigger than Big Oil. Thus was born, in the spring of 2007, the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, or AGIA, under the terms of which the state would pay up to $500 million in startup money to the company it selected to build the pipeline. The chosen company would have to comply with AGIA's stringent, inflexible terms. Certain provisions, such as the state's refusal to set tax rates in advance or even specify the formula by which they would be calculated, seemed designed specifically to discourage Exxon Mobil, BP, and Conoco Phillips from participating.
In fact, the terms discouraged almost everybody. In the end, the only bidder to meet AGIA's requirements was the Calgary-based pipeline-construction company TransCanada. Nonetheless, Palin was thrilled. She felt that with AGIA, she'd stuck her thumb in the eye of Big Oil as no governor before her ever had. She was good, and they were bad, and she'd defeated them. She was Joan of Arc at Orleans.
There was only one problem: Trans Canada didn't have any gas. Exxon Mobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips had the gas. In her populist fervor, what Palin had done--aided and abetted by the state legislature--was contrive to pay as much as $500 million to a foreign company to look into the possibility of someday building a line.
BP and ConocoPhillips had launched their own project in response to AGIA: "Denali--the Alaska Gas Pipeline." The state would give Trans Canada up to $500 million? Well, BP and ConocoPhillips, through Denali, would spend $600 million in preparation for an open season in 2010.
Thus, after 30 years without a natural-gas-pipeline project, Alaska now had two under way: one to which the state was committed and the other sponsored by the companies that had the gas--or at least some of the gas. Watching from the sidelines was the company that controlled the most gas of all: Exxon Mobil. Hal Kvisle, CEO of TransCanada, said that where a pipeline in Alaska is concerned, "nothing goes ahead until Exxon is happy." And Sarah Palin--"off on some magical mystery tour," as one state legislator put it to me--was definitely not making Exxon happy.
I was in anchorage in November when Palin flew back from the Republican governors conference, in Miami, just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Statehood Dinner, in Anchorage. Held at the Captain Cook hotel--which was owned by a former governor, 89-year-old Walter Hickel--the dinner was given in honor of the fact that 50 days later, on January 3, Alaska would celebrate 50 years of statehood.
Palin was joined at the dinner by seven former governors, ranging from Mike Stepovich, 90, who had been appointed governor of the Territory of Alaska by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, to Frank Murkowski, Palin's immediate predecessor. Sarah Palin owed a lot to Murkowski. It was the mess he'd made during his single term in Juneau that had cleared her path to the statehouse from the "Mad Zoo."
The Mad Zoo is what Alaskans call the Mat-Su, which, in turn, is short for Matanuska-Susitna, the valley (geographically) and borough (administratively) that borders Anchorage on the north. Alaska's fastest-growing region, it now holds 12 percent of the state's population. Mad Zoo residents are whiter, less educated, more Republican, and more fervently evangelical than the people of Alaska as a whole. A former president of the state senate once called them "valley trash." Sarah Palin, mayor of Wasilla, the economic and spiritual center of the area, didn't deny it. Instead, she posed for pictures in a valley trash T-shirt.
After Palin ran for lieutenant governor and lost in 2002, Murkowski, the newly elected governor, appointed her to the state's three-member Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, an obscure regulatory agency whose mission was "to protect the public interest in exploration and development of oil and gas resources." At a salary of $122,400 a year and with the commission's offices less than an hour's drive from her home in Wasilla, the position was a ripe plum for Palin. That her understanding of energy issues did not extend beyond being married to an oil-field worker and knowing how to fill the fuel tank of a snowmobile seemed not to matter. She could learn on the job.
"There is so much information here, and it's all very technical," she said soon after starting. "But maybe by the time this is through, I can have an intelligent conversation with my husband."
Then all hell broke loose. One of her colleagues on the commission was the chairman of Alaska's Republican Party. Only as dim a bulb as Murkowski could have failed to recognize that as a conflict of interest. Palin caught him conducting party business in his commission office. She became instantly famous when she ratted him out and then resigned from her position, saying she couldn't sleep at night because she was so upset by the breach of ethics.
Her insomnia didn't keep her from routing Murkowski in the 2006 Republican primary. In the general election that November, she defeated a former Democratic governor, Tony Knowles, and a conservative independent, Andrew Halcro, and went to Juneau not only as the state's youngest--and first female--governor, but also the first from the Mad Zoo and the first to have said "All I ever really needed to know I learned on the basketball court."
At the start, everybody loved Sarah. Even the state's largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, which she'd denounced as a "yellow liberal rag," hailed her as the "Joan of Arc of Alaskan politics." Few noticed that her political skills were not matched by an interest in, or grasp of, policy. Or that her concept of truth was, shall we say, rather elastic.
"Facts to her are like Silly Putty," said Larry Persily, former deputy commissioner of Alaska's Department of Revenue, who later worked for Palin in the state's office in Washington. "She shapes them into whatever people want to hear."
What Alaskans wanted to hear as Palin assumed office at the start of 2007--what they'd been wanting to hear, in fact, ever since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989--was that Big Oil, especially Exxon Mobil, was evil. Looking back over their 40-year partnership with the oil multinationals, most Alaskans concluded that no matter how many tens of billions of dollars in revenue the state had received as a result of North Slope production, it should have gotten more. And it would have, according to popular sentiment, if the greedy, crafty, amoral, conniving, duplicitous, and nefarious oil companies hadn't robbed Alaska blind--in many cases, with the illicitly bought-and-paid-for cooperation of the state's elected and appointed officials.
Such feelings intensified in October 2005, when then-Governor Murkowski, who had been secretly negotiating a gas-pipeline deal with the oil companies, fired Tom Irwin, the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, after Irwin questioned whether Murkowski's secret talks were legal. Six Irwin aides resigned immediately, the negotiations went nowhere, and Murkowski became as unpopular in Alaska as Saddam Hussein.
Anger at the oil companies grew stronger still over the next two years. In 2007, an FBI investigation led to the conviction of a number of Republican political figures who had accepted bribes from the head of an oil-services company in return for their votes supporting oil-tax legislation and other favors.
Palin seized the day. One of her first acts as governor was to restore Irwin to his position as natural-resources commissioner. His closest associate, Marty Rutherford, returned as deputy commissioner. Under Murkowski, they had sat at the negotiating table and looked Big Oil in the eye. And they'd blinked. "We were so outclassed, it was appalling," Rutherford said later. Never again, she added, should state representatives "attempt to sit across the negotiating table from Exxon, ConocoPhillips, and BP." In a written decision, Irwin said that Exxon in particular could not be trusted, that it and the other oil companies had been playing the state for a sucker in a "constant shell game."
Even in november, I thought it apparent that Palin had returned to Alaska feeling she'd outgrown it. Three days after Election Day, she bounced--black-booted and BlackBerried--back into her governor's office in Anchorage. After having been absent for more than two months, she paused to greet the assembled press.
The press? Half a dozen camera operators in boots, jeans, down vests, and flannel shirts; a couple of local television correspondents; a reporter from the city's not-so-slowly-dying daily paper: This was the press? After what she'd seen, heard, and been besieged by for the past two months?
She put on her stiffest upper lip. "Good to be here!" she chirped. "Good to be here." She waved and winked. "A lot to do, as every day is a full day here in the governor's office, so, ah, anxious to get to talk to the folks who have been holdin' down the fort and workin' real hard also, but, ah, you know, it's gonna be busy days here, just like it was busy days on the trail, 'cause bein' the governor's a full ti.a full time.in addition to bein' a candidate. Now, of course, we get to concentrate just on...one of those." The last three words--"one of those"--emerged with jaws so tightly clenched that it wouldn't have been surprising to see a broken molar pop out.
In the mid-1990s, when Palin was sitting at Wasilla city council meetings, doodling SARAH PALIN MAYOR on the back of a Wasilla budget--or even when she ran for mayor as Sarah Heath Palin, in 1996--Alaska had seemed as big as life. But viewed from the Land of Oz, where she'd been for the past 10 weeks, it looked insignificant, marginal, downright puny. She'd been at the white-hot center. How could she go back to the cold, dark edge?
That she'd come to view her governorship as a distraction from her efforts to project herself onto the national scene became even more obvious later that month when she delivered only perfunctory opening remarks at the annual two-day convention of the Resource Development Council for Alaska. Although that Anchorage gathering brought together representatives from all of Alaska's leading energy producers and developers, Palin showed no interest. She fondly recalled the days when "there'd be 20, 30, 40, 50, 60,000 people at these rallies, and they'd be chantin', when I got introduced, 'Drill, baby, drill.'?" Then she made a couple of jokes about the expensive clothes she didn't get to keep and about Tina Fey, stayed for just one panel, and then she was gone. She didn't hear an Exxon Mobil executive deliver the keynote speech at a luncheon conference called "The Future of North American Gas: Opportunity for Alaska."
On the second day, she didn't show up at all. She missed the Federal Update on Alaska Gas Pipeline Projects and presentations by representatives of both Trans�Canada and the Denali gas line. As the price of oil and gas plummeted, she also missed the afternoon presentation, titled "Financial Crisis and Global Economic Recession: Outlook for Alaska Resource Industries in 2009." Instead, it being the week before Thanksgiving, she went to a poultry farm in Wasilla to pardon a turkey in time for the 6 o'clock news.
Nobody I talked to seemed surprised. "She just doesn't think it's important to know things," said Andrew Halcro, the conservative who ran against her for governor in 2006. "Issues register on her brain only in terms of populist appeal. She never thinks through the policy implications." From the other end of the political spectrum, state representative Les Gara of Anchorage, a liberal, said, "She doesn't spend time studying problems. She'd much rather deliver a sound bite than do the hard work of governing."
A few days after the Resource Development Council convention, I met former Governor Knowles for coffee at Side Street Espresso. Anchorage is not a city with many institutions--it's still too raw and utilitarian for that--but George and Deb's little coffee shop on G Street, around the corner from the legislative office building, is one. Mismatched chairs, original art and posters on the walls, abundant political opinion--both written and spoken (a liberal stance is preferred but not required)--the best coffee in Alaska, and, most of all, the warmth and good cheer of George and Deb themselves have made Side Street more of a downtown destination than a mere convenience. I'd arranged my meeting with Knowles by looking up his number in the phone book and calling him. People still use phone books in Alaska, and ex-governors are listed alongside everyone else.
Knowles, at 66, is a tall drink of water from Oklahoma. His father and grandfather were wildcatters who hit dry holes their whole lives. Nonetheless, at the age of 16, Knowles went to Yale, from which he was expelled for throwing a water balloon out of a dorm window. He enlisted in the Army and served with an intelligence unit in Vietnam. Readmitted to Yale, he graduated in 1968 as a Delta Kappa Epsilon brother of George W. Bush.
But here's what happens when you send a third-generation Okie to Yale: He marries a Vassar girl. No place for her in Oklahoma, so they headed for L.A., where Knowles got a job with Loffland Brothers Drilling. Loffland soon sent him to Alaska's North Slope. Like so many before him--and so many who came after him as well--once he'd seen Alaska, he knew there was no other place he wanted to live. He settled in Anchorage and quickly parlayed a hamburger joint he'd started, called Grizzly Burger, into a 50 percent stake in the Downtown Deli on Fourth Avenue. It was the first New York-style deli in Alaska and the only place in Anchorage where you could buy a copy of the Sunday New York Times. Despite being pro-gay rights and anti-capital punishment, Knowles got himself elected mayor of Anchorage and went on to become governor of Alaska, serving eight years and finally bumping up against the two-term limit in 2002.
"It's just so puzzling," he told me, "that the state has gone in the direction of dividing the players instead of trying to bring them together. It dumbfounds me. I'm not sure what point the governor is trying to prove, but everything she's doing is the opposite of 'Drill, baby, drill.' This shouldn't be about creating enemies or making friends. Emotion shouldn't be the basis of public policy. What the state should be doing right now is not demonizing, but negotiating with interested parties to try to make something happen that would be good for all concerned. The window of opportunity is closing. This gas-line opportunity is going to pass us by. It's like we're sitting here in our log cabin on the frontier, and the wind is howling all around us, and we're heating ourselves by burning our own furniture."
In fairness, it should be emphasized that not all Alaskans think AGIA is a half-billion-dollar blunder. There are, for example, the 38 legislators who voted for it last summer (although if the vote were to be taken again, during the current legislative session, the result might be a lot closer than 38-to-21). There are the consultants--supposedly $13 million worth of consultants--hired by the Palin administration to sell AGIA to the legislature. And there is maverick economist Gregg Erickson, founding editor of the Alaska budget report.
I met Erickson for breakfast one morning in Juneau. He wanted to eat at McDonald's. You know times are tough when the economists opt for fast food. "AGIA," he told me, "is the most brilliantly executed piece of political and economic strategy I have seen in my lifetime. And I have seen a lot. That doesn't mean it will succeed, but it has brought the Canadian government onto our side. Now we have an alignment of three of the four key players: the U.S. government, the Canadian government, and the state of Alaska. The fourth player, the producers, are going to have to deal with that reality. The governor deserves enormous credit for her accomplishment."
Palin breezed into Fairbanks on the morning of December 5 for a ceremony in which AGIA's license would be officially turned over to TransCanada. Things with TransCanada had already begun to get dicey. Kvisle, TransCanada's CEO, had recently made some disturbing comments. He'd said, "I don't know whether we're going to see [this] get built or not." He added that the "single most important step" in moving forward would be to have "fruitful discussions" with the producers. Palin had tried so hard to ensure that neither Exxon Mobil nor BP nor ConocoPhillips would have any ownership stake in the pipeline, yet Kvisle saying, "In terms of any ownership role that they may wish to take, we've made it very clear that we are willing to accommodate them."
The governor made no reference to any of Kvisle's remarks. It was as though she didn't even know he'd made them. Indeed, she seems to have a remarkable capacity for hearing only what she wants to hear. She may not be "a fucking psychopath," as one very prominent Alaskan told me she was, but Palin does seem prone to what psychologists call magical thinking. At its most basic level, this is a tendency to believe that you exert more control over events than you actually do. It is the irrational belief that thinking is the same as doing, that you can actually cause a circumstance or an event to occur simply by wishing for it. It is common and natural in young children. Believing that you will become president of the United States someday simply because you want to would be an example of magical thinking. Another example would be believing that you can make a gas line happen, if only you want it badly enough and--as Palin has done--you ask schoolchildren to pray for it. Believing that as governor of Alaska you can bend Exxon Mobil to your will is magical thinking in the extreme.
I came back from Alaska with the sense that the further Palin goes, the more she resembles not Joan of Arc but Eva Peron. In their book Evita, Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro wrote of Peron that "the only people with whom she felt totally at ease were those who accepted what she was doing unconditionally" and that eventually "there was no one left around her capable of criticizing anything she did."
That seems to be the way Palin wants it. It's almost as if, long ago, she adopted as a personal motto Mark Twain's sardonic observation "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure."
Events, however, are not as easily manipulated as people. The price of oil has fallen by more than $100 a barrel since the halcyon days of August, when the Alaskan legislature approved the $500 million payment to TransCanada. The state now faces a 2009 budget deficit of $1.65 billion--four times as much as Palin's Department of Revenue estimated in December but still only half of what Finance Committee co-chairman Hawker foresees. That $500 million no longer looks quite so much like chump change.
And the pipeline? In her annual State of the State address to the legislature on January 22, Palin saw only clear skies ahead. "In Alaska," she said, "all roads lead--well, really, we only have the one--north. But it leads to the North Slope and to the central importance of our North American gas line. America's security, Alaska's revenue, Alaskan careers, affordable fuel.all these hinge on the success of this great undertaking. I assure you: The line will be built. Gas will flow. Alaska will succeed."
She made no reference to the irony of putting America's security and Alaska's future in the hands of a foreign company. The same day, however, at an oil-service-company conference in Anchorage, a couple of people who seemed to have a firmer grip on reality were not so sanguine.
"It's certainly going to be taken off the urgent list," said Ed Kelly, vice president of Houston-based energy consultants Wood Mackenzie. Brian Frank, president of BP, was even gloomier. "It's not a pretty story right now in terms of North American natural-gas markets. Without stakeholder alignment, it's difficult to
visualize the project going forward."
"Stakeholder alignment" means the state of Alaska and the companies that control the natural gas on the North Slope coming to terms, something Palin continues to resist. "How do you know the economics for your project if you don't know what you're going to pay in taxes?" Frank asked.
Palin had no answer. She was off to the Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington, and then she was busy endorsing Texas Governor Rick Perry in that state's Republican gubernatorial primary. As Palin put it, "He walks the walk of a true conservative, and he sticks to his guns. And you know how I feel about guns." Then she was sending an email to new members of SarahPAC--the political action committee she formed after the election--assuring them that she would maintain her national presence.
The Obama administration may want to prioritize construction of the Alaska natural-gas pipeline. And even in the deteriorating economic climate, the Denali project of BP and ConocoPhillips is moving forward. But TransCanada is hedging its bets, now saying that, in order to proceed, it may need Congress to authorize even more than the $18 billion it has already set aside to reimburse the pipeline builder, should the project fail after construction. "We need to encourage the U.S. government to perhaps increase the size of the loan guarantees," CEO Kvisle says. Given the staggering sums the government has already committed to propping up failing U.S. companies, a commitment of more billions to a potential future bailout of a Canadian corporation seems about as likely as a sunrise over Prudhoe Bay on Christmas morning.
The bottom line is that for all her posturing, and as much as she might wish it were not so, Palin's only accomplishment in two years of work on the pipeline project has been to give $500 million from Alaska's budget to Canadians and to leave Alaska, once again, at the not-so-tender mercies of Big Oil.
And with Palin's attention shifting several thousand miles to the southeast, Alaskans are starting to catch on. In its January 27 edition, Bradners' Alaska Legislative Digest, a publication that had long been supportive of Palin, had this to say: "The problem we see is that we continue to see Governor Palin as not really interested in governing, not interested in chasing an issue to the bottom. Further, our assessment is our governor just doesn't understand the difference between campaigning and governing. We increasingly suspect that Governor Sarah Palin now has a focus that is Washington D.C. beltway politics, and Alaska may pay a price for pandering to interests quite far to the right of center."