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Originally published Tuesday, December 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Palin takes Alaska reins

Unabashedly promising to defend the interests of all Alaskans as the state increases its energy-production role, Sarah Palin was sworn in...

The Associated Press

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Unabashedly promising to defend the interests of all Alaskans as the state increases its energy-production role, Sarah Palin was sworn in Monday as the ninth person to lead the state since Alaska was granted statehood in 1959.

"I will unambiguously, steadfastly and doggedly guard the interests of this great state as a mother naturally guards her own," she told an overflowing crowd at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.

Palin, a Republican, said the most important issues facing Alaska as she takes office are developing energy supplies and building an international role for the state.

"We must have reserves and explore for more to energize our homes, our businesses, for new industry to come alive, to heat our economy and allow self sufficiency while gifting our nation with safe domestic supplies," she said.

"Couple this with ANWR [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] oil and inexhaustible alternative-energy sources, and Alaska can lead the nation in a much-needed U.S. energy plan," Palin said.

She asked why Alaska couldn't fuel the nation and lead the world.

"America is looking for answers. She's looking for a new direction, the world is looking for a light. It's Governor [Walter] Hickel that reminds me, that light can come from America's great north star; it can come from Alaska," she said.

Central to this plan will be natural gas, and a proposed $25 billion natural-gas pipeline to take North Slope gas to Midwestern markets will be the first focus of her administration.

She plans to meet today and Wednesday with 12 companies or groups interested in building the pipeline before she moves to the Governor's Mansion in Juneau later this week.

Besides Palin, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and acting Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Marty Rutherford and others will attend.

The meetings will include the three big oil companies that negotiated with Gov. Frank Murkowski on a natural-gas-pipeline contract — ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and BP PLC, the companies that also own the leases to the gas. The Legislature never ratified that contract.

Palin promised that her pipeline-contract negotiations would be open and transparent, and has told the companies any information or documents offered would be public. Murkowski was criticized for negotiating secretly with the oil companies for several years.

Palin is the state's first female governor and, at age 42, also is the youngest person to hold the office. She also is the first not to be sworn in in Juneau, the state capital.

She chose Fairbanks for the ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the Alaska constitution, which was drafted in Fairbanks three years before statehood in 1959.

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