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PUBLISHED: 2:47 PM on Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Could Sarah Palin learn from George W.'s example (both of them)?

It's tempting to jump to all kinds of conclusion about where our new governor will take us in the next four years.

More than pipelines and capitals and roads, more than any one issue, what's going to be most important is getting back to a culture of success and teamwork.

Sounds a little corny? Maybe I've been attending too many Franklin Covey seminars of late, but nothing seems to breed success like working together instead of against each other.

Some tell me that's Alaska - that we're a state of zealots who can't agree on much of anything. But it need not be a state of close-minded, unrealistic, my-way-or-the-highway zealots.

Many today would find it surprising that George W. Bush might be a good role model for the new governor. Not in his current job, but when he was the newly elected governor of Texas.

That also was a state divided, with a powerful stack of issues looming, from tax reform to school finance.

The newly-elected, relatively untested Governor Bush defeated a well-liked, charismatic incumbent Democrat, Ann Richards. Nobody could predict whether the new governor would be up to the job, or what his "style" would be.

He shocked both the Democrats and his own party, by becoming a team builder and a forger of coalitions across party lines that made great strides for the state.

His strongest ally became the acknowledged most powerful man in Texas, Lt. Governor Bob Bullock, a Democrat who everyone had expected would fight the new governor at every turn.

When Bush was elected governor, he sought out those who opposed him, more than those who agreed with him.

As Democrat Rob Junell told CNN years later:

"One of the first things he did after he got elected was he came and saw people who you would think would be his natural opponents in things. And you know, one the first things he said to me - he came to my office - which is interesting, and called me Mr. Chairman, which is a title of deference, I supposed, and said 'I want you to help me and I want to help you. Here are some things I'm thinking about doing. What do you think about these?'"

Bush would continue extending that hand of cooperation, meeting every member of the Texas House and Senate.

He got things done with compromise, focusing on the key points of important issues and completely eliminating partisan politics. His years in the Texas Governors' mansion were among the most productive in Texas history.

"I never heard him bully," Junell said in that same interview. "I never heard him threaten. I never heard him draw a line that we knew what his position was, that allowed people the freedom to try to get there by their own."

In many ways, not following that same example in Washington has created the substantial problems President George W. Bush now faces.

Governor Palin can start us back on the road to reasonable compromise and teamwork.

Or she could follow her predecessor (and President Bush's) example, and continue the damaging trend of the past few years.

She's said that in November the voters demanded change among both elected and appointed officials, and also in the way the state does business.

She's already proven to be a decisive leader, tackling a variety of key issues like selling off that ill-fated state jet and proposing a conservative budget.

But the challenges looming, from the gas pipeline to ethics reform to the future of the state's economy in the face of declining resources and climate change, are about as big as they come.

Now it's time for Governor Palin to start in her own proactive, positive direction, building an alliance beyond party lines and single-issue agendas.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and regional advertising director for Morris Communications publications in Alaska. Send him e-mail at lee.leschper@juneauempire.com.


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