September 23, 2008

"Road To Nowhere"

Posted: 05:00 PM ET

She said, “thanks, but no thanks,” to a “Bridge to Nowhere,” so, why didn’t Gov. Sarah Palin say, “thanks, but no thanks,” to a $26 million “Road to Nowhere?”

Here’s some background: At one point, there was supposed to be a bridge that would make it easier for people who live or visit Ketchikan, Alaska to get to nearby Gravina Island, where the airport sits. The bridge was never built, after it was publicly ridiculed by Congress as being a waste of taxpayer money.But the road that was designed to connect from the bridge to the airport was built. Now, many locals coined it the “Road to Nowhere.” And guess who paid for it? You! 


But what’s really interesting is the response we received from the McCain Palin camp about this road.  I interviewed Meg Stapleton, a spokesperson for the campaign. Here is part of that interview:

Boudreau: “It’s hard to imagine that the governor wouldn't think that this was a waste of money – taxpayer money.”

Stapleton: “The governor could not change that earmark. That earmark was given, was dictated to us, and it had to be spent on Gravina Road – and nothing else. So, the governor had no option.”
Boudreau: “Could she [Palin] have stopped construction?”

Stapleton: “Uh, my understanding is that, you know, I'd have to look in to that for you. I don't know.”

In this interview, Stapleton told me there was nothing the governor could do in this case. She went on to try to explain who would be to blame for this road that leads absolutely nowhere. Here’s what she said:

Stapleton:  “She had no opportunity to evaluate this. The contracts were already signed and she was told she had no option but to use this money for Gravina Road.”

Boudreau:  “Who told her that?”

Stapleton:  “The state D.O.T officials.”

Boudreau:  “Wow. I would have thought the governor could trump the D.O.T.”

Stapleton:  “Well, they're interpreting. Ultimately, it's the federal government, you’re dealing with federal earmark dollars. So, ultimately it's the federal government.”


About two hours after our on-camera interview, I received an email from Meg Stapleton that further explains Palin’s position. Here are a couple of excerpts from that email:


Gravina Road

 Unlike the “Bridge to Nowhere,” the Governor could not cancel this road project. While Congress released the earmark for the bridge, the road was still earmarked by Washington, DC.
 It would have literally taken an act of Congress to redirect the funds away from the road project.   Even that extraordinary step would have come too late as a contract had already been signed by the previous Governor.

 To stop construction on the road would have meant for the State to pay back costs incurred by the Contractor as well as a portion of future profits.

 Bottom line: Under ordinary circumstances, Governor Palin would not have allowed the Gravina Road to move forward with the same timeline. Given the directed earmark and the signed contract, the Governor was left no viable alternative.

Here’s my question: Why is the federal earmark system set up in a way that it would prevent a governor from re-directing earmark money when the project doesn’t make any sense? And in this case, do you think Gov. Palin could have done more to stop this project from getting started?


Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Uncategorized

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September 16, 2008

Palin: From PTA to VP nominee

Posted: 04:35 PM ET
Republican Vice Presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin greets supporters at a campaign rally in Carson City, Nevada.
Republican Vice Presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin greets supporters at a campaign rally in Carson City, Nevada.

Drew Griffin
CNN Special Investigations Unit

Immediately after Gov. Sarah Palin’s surprise unveiling as GOP vice presidential nominee - I was shocked that so many people – including pundits, e-mailers, talk show hosts and politicians - knew so much about her.

When I was given this assignment to produce an hour-long documentary on the Alaska governor, I had no idea who she was. To be perfectly honest I didn’t even know the governor of Alaska was a "she."

But apparently everyone else did, and they all had an opinion about her.

Of course the opinions were equally divided based on your political leanings. Democrats began e-mailing reporter types with their talking points: evil, vindictive, lightweight, a conservative Christian out to tell us how to breed, teach and read. In a word, dangerous.

Republican talking points included: outside-the-beltway, corruption fighter, executive experience. A real person grounded in family, country and apple pie. (Make that moose burgers). And, it turns out, the celebrity antidote to the Obama star factor.

Sarah Palin turns out to be much more human than either the Republicans or Democrats would have you believe.

What struck me most about Palin is how accidentally she fell into this business.

Sens. John McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden all deliberately entered politics as a career.

Palin entered the tiny world of her politics as a PTA mom-turned-city-council-member-turned mayor.

I am not naïve enough to believe she had no political ambition beyond Wasilla and the great state of Alaska.

But I am convinced her meteoric rise started with a mom’s simple involvement in her children schools. And if nothing else, that is refreshing in national politics.

What do you think? Use this blog to weigh in with your opinions on Sarah Palin.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Election 2008 • Politics • Special Investigations Unit

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September 13, 2008

Joe Biden Revealed

Posted: 01:41 PM ET

To tell you the truth, when CNN assigned me to work on this documentary, I was a little surprised. Don't get me wrong – I looked forward to the challenge, but I am not at heart a political reporter. I do not live and breathe politics.

Of course, I am interested in the issues that affect all of us, but I am more interested in learning how a politician's personal life has shaped his or her political views. And as an investigative reporter, I am especially interested in holding elected officials accountable when they abuse their power.

During the past couple of weeks, Governor Sarah Palin seems to have stolen the media spotlight. Maybe for good reason – people want to know who she is and what makes her tick. That's why when I told a couple of people about my new assignment to cover Sen. Joe Biden, they seemed a little disappointed. They really thought the more exciting documentary would be that of Gov. Sarah Palin. But when I asked them what they knew about Biden, they really didn't know much, except that he's been around for a long time, and he's known for his foreign policy experience.

That brief conversation, made me realize how important it was to show people who Biden is – his ups, his downs, his successes and failures. He is a six-term senator. You probably recognize his face – that smile, but what else do you know about Joe Biden, the possible future vice-president of the United States of America?

This documentary will reveal Biden's dramatic life story. You'll hear him talk about, for example, his two life-threatening aneurysms and what he told he sons before surgery. I promise you will learn things you don't know about this scrappy, outspoken senator from Delaware. Of course, there is no way to cover everything there is to know about Joe Biden in one hour. So check out the political page that breaks down the accomplishments and histories of both vice presidential candidates.

I'd love to get your feedback on the documentary. Remember this is a forum for your opinions, ideas and debate.

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Filed under: Abbie Boudreau

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September 1, 2008

Homeless in New Orleans

Posted: 01:48 PM ET

The eeriness was chilling.

I heard rats scamper above me in this abandoned house.  A mattress on the floor.  Signs of life, but not tonight.

A dedicated homeless advocate named Mike Miller took us on a tour of some of the thousands of abandoned homes used by the homeless in New Orleans.  Early Sunday morning, Miller went from one rickety building to the next, looking for stragglers who may be riding out the storm or who don't know about the mandatory evacuation.

Inside one of the abandoned homes

Miller works for Unity of Greater New Orleans, a non-profit group that helps the homeless find housing.  When we were here in May dozens of people still lived under the freeway in tents, a stark reminder that the memories of Hurricane Katrina were still vivid.  In the darkness of the underpass, only one man remained, sprawled on the cement and seemingly oblivious to the impending hurricane.  He told us he planned to leave, but Miller says many of the homeless in this city won't heed the warnings to get out.

"I've been looking for you," Miller said to one man in a park.

He managed to take at least one man to a bus station where he would get a free ticket out of New Orleans.

It would be just a temporary escape. This is their home, Miller told us, and they will be back.

Soon it would be time for Miller, his wife and baby to leave too.  He will return another day to help the invisible people of New Orleans.

(SIU Producer Scott Zamost contributed to this report).

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Filed under: Abbie Boudreau

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