TODD & SARAH PALIN – WALKING THE WALK
By Karen Kassel Hutto
“Personal integrity is making a hard decision and sticking with it. It’s about digging down deep and holding onto your faith, even when you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.” – Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska
“Life will test your integrity. There is a cost for doing what’s right.” – Todd Palin, First Gentleman of Alaska
On September 3, 2008 at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Sarah Palin exploded onto the national political scene as John McCain’s surprise pick for running mate. Stepping confidently to the podium-and into the history books-as the GOP’s first female candidate for Vice President of the United States, the 44-year-old Governor of Alaska delivered her first nationally televised speech to more than 40 million viewers. Her dynamic message of government reform captured the public’s attention and turned the 2008 election campaign on its ear.
For the next nine weeks, intense media coverage thoroughly acquainted the nation with Sarah Palin and her family. And while opinions varied on both sides of the political fence, no one could argue that the young governor was a force to be reckoned with-a political “hurricane” that wowed the Right, worried the Left, and in the end, gave the Republican Party a new face for the future, albeit not the White House.
With the election behind her, Governor Palin is back at work busily governing the largest state in the Union, splitting her time between offices in Juneau and Anchorage. Todd has returned to his job on the North Slope as an oil field production operator for British Petroleum. The Palins’ children are all happy, healthy and active. Track (19), is halfway through his 12-month Army infantry assignment in Iraq. Bristol (18) gave birth, on December 27, 2008, to the couple’s first grandchild, a grandson named Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston. And Willow (14), Piper (7) and baby Trig are happily back at home in Wasilla.
Recently, Sarah and Todd honored Christian Living with a candid interview, sharing personal insights about their family, their faith and, of course, politics.
CL: What was it like, running for the second highest office in the country?
Sarah: It was the biggest privilege of my life. (Todd heartily concurs.) It was an honor to travel this great country, to meet so many fellow citizens and to serve alongside John McCain, one of America’s finest. I’m proud of how we gave voters a choice, because change was coming, no matter what. I truly believe our administration would have greatly benefited this country, but American voters did not choose us, and that’s okay. It was not our time.
CL: Would you go through it all again?
Sarah: Good question. Right now, my goal is to do the best job I can for the great state of Alaska. And there’s a lot to do here.
Facing Down the Foes
That’s for sure. One of Governor Palin’s gubernatorial missions is to build and operate a pipeline to transport natural gas from Alaska’s North Slope, through Canada, to the continental United States. Last August, she signed a bill authorizing TransCanada Pipelines to start the massive project, pledging $500 million in state seed money. She is also an outspoken proponent of Alaskan oil exploration, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a development she believes would create thousands of American jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil imports.
The idea of drilling in ANWR stirs controversy, of course, but Governor Palin is no stranger to facing down opponents-something she did with great energy, poise and even humor throughout the 2008 election campaign. In fact, fighting for what she believes in, often emerging as the victorious underdog, is something Sarah has done all her life.
It all goes back to Sarah’s solid family upbringing-one that fostered an unbelievable work ethic and a profound faith in God.
Home and Family
Sarah Louise was born the third of four children to Chuck and Sally Heath. The family relocated from Idaho to Alaska when Sarah was two months old, settling in Wasilla, a community 50 miles north of Anchorage. Both parents worked for the school system-Chuck as a science teacher and track coach and Sally as the school secretary.
Hard work, sports and family activities formed the foundation of the Heath household. The entire family often competed in five-kilometer and ten-kilometer races. Hunting, fishing, skiing and camping kept them outdoors year-round. Everyone had chores. Whether they were weeding the family garden, stacking firewood or picking strawberries, Chuck and Sally’s children understood the value of work. By age 12, each child was expected to earn his or her own spending money and save for college.
“I learned early on that no one was going to hand me anything,” Sarah shares. “I knew that if I wanted something, I would have to earn it. My parents taught me to expect opportunities and to be prepared when they came. I knew, even at a young age, that was how I would progress.”
Attending church shaped young Sarah as well. “Just like with everything else, Mom and Dad expected us to go church whether we wanted to or not,” Sarah recalls. Her experiences there solidified a belief in something bigger and better than herself. At age 12, she made the personal decision to commit her life to Jesus Christ. “I knew even then that if I put my life in His hands, God would lead me and direct my paths. That decision still guides me today,” she shares.
At the start of Sarah’s senior year, a handsome new student showed up at Wasilla High. Athletic and outdoorsy, Todd Palin fit right in with the lively Heath family. He treated Sarah to daring rides on his snowmobile and taught her to fish in Bristol Bay.
The two kept in touch as Sarah attended college. In 1988, a year after she graduated from the University of Idaho with a journalism degree, Sarah and Todd eloped.
Settling in Wasilla, the couple welcomed their first child, Track, the following year. Ever the athletes, Todd and Sarah named him after the track season in which he was born. Soon after, Todd began training on the North Slope to become a production operator with British Petroleum, a position he still holds today. In 1990, the Palins welcomed Bristol (named after the ocean bay where Todd conducts his commercial fishing business). In 1994, Willow (named after Alaska’s state bird, the willow ptarmigan) arrived. Piper (named after Todd’s Piper Cub airplane) was born in 2001, and Trig (named after his great uncle who fished on Bristol Bay) was born in 2008.
”It’s a truth I learned early on and it carries me still today… Everything in our lives is grounded in a simple truth, that we put our lives in our Creator’s hands, knowing that following His path ultimately will lead to our fulfillment and happiness.” – Sarah Palin
Making It All Work
Through the past 20 years, as Todd and Sarah worked and raised their children, Sarah says she often felt a profound restlessness to serve her community. She prayed for open doors…and opportunities came: in 1992, at the age of 28, as a Wasilla city councilman; in 1996, two terms as Wasilla’s mayor; and later a stint as chairman of the Alaskan Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. In 2006, at age 42, Sarah became Alaska’s first female governor (the youngest in Alaska’s history); and in 2008, she accepted the invitation to run for Vice President.
Unlike many in politics, Governor Palin’s career has been defined by people seeking her out to run for office, instead of the other way around.
CL: Did you set out to have a career in politics?
Sarah: I grew up, politically speaking, during the Reagan era. I loved what he accomplished for our country. It’s been my aspiration to make a difference in my community and in my state, and public service has provided a way to capitalize on that desire. When I wasn’t serving in an elected position, I was immersed in my children’s lives-involved in PTA, being a team manager and a coach, doing all those things that millions of moms and dads do every day. But I knew there were additional things I could and should be doing. So I was looking and waiting for that next opportunity, knowing full well that when it came, I would engage in it.
CL: Running cities and states takes time, right? So how do you keep it all together?
Todd: We just adapt. We don’t get all wrapped up about responsibilities. If something needs doing, we just pitch in and do it.
Sarah: Todd is amazing. Whatever needs to be done, he just does it-laundry, dishes, changing a diaper, whatever. That in addition to keeping all our vehicles running, working on his airplane and doing all the things he loves to do. We don’t waste time squabbling over household chores. We have a mutual recognition and respect for each other in doing the practical things necessary to keep a household running.
CL: What do you not do?
Sarah: You won’t find us sitting back with our feet up, watching some mindless TV show. (She laughs.) And some people would say we don’t socialize very much. If we are out and about, it’s usually with the kids. Todd’s Slope schedule keeps him away from home many months of the year. When he is home, it’s precious. We seize the time to be together.
Todd: It’s family first. For us, relax time would be out on the boat fishing or up at our cabin in Petersville. That’s the type of family activity we really cherish.
CL: We’ve also heard about your participation in the annual Iron Dog competition, a rugged 2,200-mile snowmachine race across Alaska-a race you have won four times! Tell us about that.
Todd: I’ve been competitive all my life through sports and commercial fishing. This event fills that need to compete. It’s also a special way to stay in touch with Alaskans. We stop at all the remote villages and talk to the kids and elders there-even if it’s 3 a.m. and 30 below. It’s really amazing.
Leading By Example
Like most people in public life, the Palins have taken their share of hard knocks. The 2008 political campaign delivered some especially nasty blows: Everything from criticism of Sarah’s wardrobe to shots at her administration and-the really tough ones-attacks against her children.
CL: How did those negatives affect you?
Sarah: During the campaign, I was insulated. It was not until I returned home that my eyes were opened to various things coming from the mainstream media. But most hurtful were the lies spoken about my kids.
CL: As a Christian leader, how do you deal with such difficult situations?
Sarah: I look back at Scripture that reminds me, hey, I’m sure not the first to face this. Criticism will come. Unfair shots will be taken. The question is how are you going to react? I like I Peter 2:12. It says to keep your conduct honorable, so that by your good works, which are observed by others, God will be glorified. When I read that I know others have faced this before me. They face it today. Who am I to exempt myself from a principle like that? In spite of it all, I’ve got to live my life to glorify God. That’s what I promised myself I’d do 30 years ago, and that’s what I must do now-not just to talk it, but to walk it.
CL: But how do you pass that concept on to your children?
Sarah: It’s very timely that you should ask that question. Just the other day Bristol and Willow were at Wal-mart and Bristol called me and said, ‘Mom, you will not believe what I’m reading on the cover of the National Enquirer!’ At first I said, ‘Don’t even waste your brain cells!’ But she was upset because the inside story said that she used drugs and that I was trying to talk her out of getting married. It gave me an opportunity to tell her that if we let it, lies and criticism can consume us to the point of becoming paralyzed. We have to answer our critics with how we live our lives.
With Bristol, God turned a situation that at first looked full of despair and embarrassment into such a blessing for our family. She has the most beautiful baby boy! I remind her and all our children that we have to stay focused on serving God, putting our lives in HIS hands and seeing the blessings flow from some less than ideal circumstances.
CL: Another teaching opportunity came when your youngest son, Trig, was born with Down syndrome. How did this affect you?
Sarah: Trig did give us another occasion to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk. It’s easy to say that every life should be cherished and every life carries potential. But at age 43, pregnant and at 13 weeks along learning that the baby would be born with Down syndrome, the situation necessitated a decision: Would I live what I’ve talked and taught? Or would I take a different path out of these perhaps less than ideal circumstances? I’m so thankful God gave us the strength and optimism to welcome Trig into our lives. God has gifted us with this child who has given us a way to connect with others around our country who also have special needs children. It’s been nothing but wonderful.
Todd: I thank God for Trig every day. We are certainly very blessed to have him with us. You know, life is about being willing to walk the walk, not just talk it. As we go along, it may be tougher than ever to make the right decisions, but we must try to do so. That’s all we can ever do.
And that statement really sums up the Palins: A couple willing to do what’s right-to walk the walk-no matter how difficult.
Todd and Sarah Palin and their family attend Wasilla Bible Church in Wasilla, Alaska. To learn more about Governor Palin, please visit