Alicia Lewis, victim of the Sarah Palin Attack Machine Speaks Out: Inside a young student’s experience with a powerful political personality and leader of the Tea Party, who labels those who don’t agree with her as personal enemies and political operatives. When Alicia Lewis attempted to hold CSU fiscally accountable, she found herself on the wrong end of Palin’s attack machine.
An exclusive interview with Alicia Lewis, who found herself the unwitting victim of the Sarah Palin attack machine during the Palin Stanislaus speech shakedown. Sen. Leland Yee (D-SF) and others were wondering, among many other questions regarding the university’s transparency and financial dealings, why Palin’s speaking fees for her June 25 engagement were not being disclosed per the state’s public records law. In the course of following a lead about documents which were being disposed of suspiciously, Ms. Lewis stumbled into the middle of another Palin drama and found herself being labeled a “dumpster diver and “political operative” by Sarah Palin during Palin’s nationally streamed speech last weekend.
Sarah Jones: Give me a little background info — your major, where you grew up, etc. I believe your major is poly-sci, which is interesting. Has this experience impacted your ideas about politics or decision to go into that field?
Alicia Lewis: I just received my BA in Political Science and will be entering into the Masters of Public Administration this Fall. I grew up in both Stanislaus and Merced County. I have always been interested in politics and involved within my local community. However, this experience has shown me the large amount of time and energy necessary to fully participate in this field. Not to mention it has demonstrated the dark under belly of politics such as the hate mail and public scrutiny.
This entire experience while discouraging and frustrating at first has actually strengthened my commitment to enter into the political world. I have seen firsthand how the actions of a few college students can turn into an international talking point and that it is possible to get your message out.
Sarah Jones: How did you get involved in finding Palin’s contract?
Alicia Lewis: A little background explanation: After it was publicized that our school had invited Sarah Palin to speak at our 50th anniversary gala there was a California Public Records Request for any information regarding expenditures related to the event. Our school denied having any documents citing the schools Foundation was separate from the University itself and not subject to disclosure laws. Several emails surfaced demonstrating that the school was not being truthful.
Fast forward to dumpster issue:
Ashli Briggs (other student who went public) received a tip that documents were being destroyed from a reliable source. It was said that documents were being destroyed in the administration building. This was a red flag to those of us Ashli informed because we knew the college was supposed to be closed that day. Myself and several other students went down to the campus and noticed that only the admin parking lot had cars and there seemed to be activity taking place in the locked/closed building. We waited and watched for a while, noting that garbage was being taken out to the different dumpsters.
Out of intuition/curiosity/boredom we opened the bins. One was filled with whole intact documents and a bag of shredded paperwork. We saw the headers were all from the University financial services and thought it was odd they were cleaning out offices on a closed campus day so we took the documents. Not knowing what we would end up finding. After looking through the stacks of paperwork we found pages 4-9 of what appeared to be the Palin contract. It was mixed with all University paperwork and in our opinion demonstrated that our school did violate the CA Public Records Request.
Sarah Jones: Sarah Palin accused you of being a “political operative” during her Stanislaus speech. Can you talk about what your intentions were when you found the shredded contracts and what your reaction was when you heard Palin’s spin on your intentions? Palin seems to be saying that you could not have had a motive other than political differences. Do you agree with her characterization?
Alicia Lewis: At the time we found the documents our intention was to find out what the heck was going on a closed campus day. All we knew was that our campus administration has been under constant criticism for decisions and actions it has made in recent years plus we had a tip from an alarmed source making us even more concerned that something fishy was taking place. We did not know it would lead us in the direction of anything concerning Sarah Palin.
When I heard what Palin said about those that found the documents I was immediately furious. I know both myself and Ashli Briggs have consistently stated that this was an issue about transparency and have advocated that changes be made in the CSU system regarding how donor money is handled.
I always made a point to not make a criticism about Palin because I knew it would undermine the argument we were making and would only add to the political divide already taking place in our community. So to hear Palin making such a bold statement was a demonstration that her only goal is to create a wide political divide.
She took the situation and made it solely about her instead of focusing on the REAL issue. It seems to be part of her gimmick, show how “the left” is attacking her from all sides and she is the victim (don’t forget to add in the catchy phrases!). All the while she ignores the real issues and topics being discussed….wait never mind I’m sure she has an out of context quote to use to help her seem knowledgeable. Considering that she presents everything as black or white (American or un-American) I am not surprised that she said it’s all about political differences because that’s all she knows.
I disagree with her characterization about me entirely, she obviously did not look into or comprehend what was being said and should maybe try thinking before speaking.
Sarah Jones: I’ve read and talked with many people who have had similar encounters with Sarah Palin. She is often described as a “rabid” “vindictive” person. What did you know about Palin before this entire episode and how has your notion of her changed since you have had personal experience with her? How would you characterize her now? Would you vote for her now? How do you feel about the idea of her being President — how do you think she would handle that sort of power?
Alicia Lewis: Prior to this debacle I was fairly familiar with Sarah Palin (due to her VP run) and had read about the various accusations regarding misconduct and abuse of power while governor of Alaska. I had seen her interviews and heard her speeches so my view of her was already very low.
I already felt that she was doing a disservice to not only women but also to the American people that believe her banter. After this experience I dislike her even more, she has shown herself to be self serving and completely dependent on using cute (I use that term loosely) phrases in a condescending tone in order to convince people that what she’s saying is right.
You asked if I would vote for her? Absolutely not.
The idea of her being President is terrifying. She is narrow minded and has emphasized the agenda that (she) wishes to push on the country as a whole. I think she would handle presidential power poorly because she has already shown a disdain for higher learning belittling the experts that tend to advise presidents. Whom would she be relying on for knowledge on specific issues? Todd?
Sarah Jones: Do you consider what Palin said about you irresponsible? Were there consequences for you, in terms of challenges or obstacles you had to overcome due to her decision to point fingers at you during a national speech?
Alicia Lewis: I consider most of what Palin says to be irresponsible. She has a strong influence over so many people that it’s scary knowing that she is going around labeling those who disagree with her as un-American or not part of “Real America”. Since this entire situation has taken place there has been the negative outpouring from her supporters it seemed to slow down until her speech which only reignited their desire to send hate filled messages to college students.
Sarah Jones: Talk a bit about how this experience has changed you. Are you more or less engaged in politics now? Do you see our political landscape differently than you did before?
Alicia Lewis: I am more engaged now with politics since this situation took place because it allowed me to meet some wonderful people in my community. I am more cynical now because I have seen how opportunistic people can be and that I need to be aware of what other people’s intentions are.
I was already skeptical about our political landscape but now I have seen how divided we have made ourselves and I believe very unnecessarily. When talking with people about the transparency issue I saw that with good conversation and explanation those from all over the political spectrum can agree on issues. We just have to get past the political mouthpieces that are going around the country spewing misinformation.
Sarah Jones: Have you spoken with Senator Yee about this situation? He was threatened by Palin fans after he attempted to get to the bottom of the transparency issue, is this something you are concerned about now?
Alicia Lewis: I have spoken with the Senator and he has shown such kindness regarding this whole situation. All of us are still on the same page regarding the senate bill (SB 330) that we want to see passed in California in order to prevent mishandling of funds in our CSU/UC system. I am always going to be slightly concerned that some crazed supporter of Palin will say or do something however, I can’t let that stop me from advocating for the school system which I am a part of.
Sarah Jones: Talk about what you most wish people knew about this situation — the thing you feel people most misunderstand who were not a part of it.
Alicia Lewis: I wish that people understood that this was never about Palin, that we as students have legitimate concerns about how our school system operates in California and are completely determined to make changes. We have had academic programs and budgets cut, our tuition increased, and faculty being laid off. Constantly being told that we all need to be fiscally responsible yet the college Foundations which are responsible for 1 billion dollars of donor money throughout the state are not given any oversight and have had scandals leak out of blatant financial waste and irresponsibility.
While our intention was not to go after Palin it did show a side of her that I think people should recognize as unhealthy for our country and ignoring this insight would be irresponsible. We need to stop with dividing ourselves over every issue; there is a lot that we can agree on. We have allowed political mouthpieces to speak and think for us and this has left much of the country dependent on their favorite TV personality to formulate their opinion.
It would be naïve for me to argue that we can all get along and have consensus on our most divisive issues but it does not have to be as bad as we make it. If we stop with the tag lines and sound bites we might be able to have a legitimate conversation. Until then we will be stuck having people like Palin determining the opinion and political course our country takes.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.