Kings County roots: Alaska's new governor born in Hanford before moving north
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, center, waves to supporters after being sworn in during a ceremony in Fairbanks, Alaska July 26, in which Gov. Sarah Palin turned over power to Parnell. Palin, left back, with her daughter, Piper, left front, Palin's daughter Willow, second right, and Parnell's wife, Sandy right, listen. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)

Hanford birthed the governor of Alaska. No kidding. In 1962, at the then-Sacred Heart Hospital (now Central Valley General Hospital), Sean Parnell came into the world.

True, he moved to Sacramento with his parents in 1964 and thus, doesn't remember much about Kings County. Still, it's hard to think of a Hanford native rising to higher public office than Parnell, who unexpectedly went from lieutenant governor to governor in July after former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin abruptly resigned.

It's a long way from the little hospital on Douty Street to the state capital in Juneau.

Chalk it up to his father, an idealistic man drawn by the open-ended possibilities of Alaska, which became the 49th U.S. state in 1959.

"He saw it as the last frontier," Parnell said in a telephone interview Monday.

In 1972, Parnell's dad traveled alone to Anchorage, found a job and moved Sean and the rest of the family up to join him.

Sean Parnell graduated from East Anchorage High School in 1980. After that, there were a few stints in the lower 48, such as college and law school in Washington state, but for the most part he's lived near the Arctic Circle.

Spend a few minutes with Parnell on the phone, and you'll quickly figure out that residents of Alaska are, well, different.

Ever talk to anybody who's lived through an Alaskan winter?

Jack Parnell, Sean Parnell's uncle, has lived in Visalia for decades and likes the San Joaquin Valley's Mediterranean climate, thank you very much.

"Only in the summer," he said, when asked if he had any desire to join his nephew in the state where Sarah Palin famously said she could see Russia.

Since 1973, Sean Parnell said he's been back to California's Great Central Valley maybe 10 times, and then only briefly for family visits. Alaska is where he worked as an attorney, then an assemblyman, then a senator and finally lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket with Sarah Palin in 2006.

Deep roots in the Lutheran branch of Christianity and a strong family ethic of public service helped catapult Parnell into government service.

"It's a direction he's been headed in for a number of years. Certainly, we're proud of him. We hope he does well," Jack Parnell said.

Sean Parnell, as you might expect, touts the state he governs.

He's got a phrase: "North to freedom." He once spent time on the Eastern seaboard of the continental U.S. His conclusion was that "if you did not have a name or money … then you could not make it on the East Coast in terms of business."

"It really is north to the future," Parnell said.

The notion of the self-made man, pulled up by his own bootstraps, seems precious to most Alaskans, who live a life far removed — literally and metaphorically — from the financial mess, water woes and population pressures of California.

With most of Alaska's revenue coming from taxes and royalties on oil and gas production, Parnell said, the state has been able to cover a small budget deficit with a rainy day fund.

He called Alaska a land of opportunity.

"I believe it's because Alaskans value freedom. We are a self-reliant people," he said.

The extensive welfare programs that have burdened California's budget are light years away from the situation in Alaska.

There, as Parnell pointed out, the issues are more along the lines of how to get electricity and sewage service to remote villages.

He noted the perennial need for teachers in Alaska's hinterlands, where it is understandably hard to get anybody to live.

True to his history of public service, Parnell plans to run for governor next year.

But don't expect to hear much about him. The media attention that briefly catapulted him into the national spotlight as Palin's replacement has quickly faded.

Which is somehow fitting for an Alaskan.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432.

(Aug. 18, 2009)

Recommended for you

Load comments