US & Canada

Newsnight interviews Sarah Palin's parents

Chuck Heath, Sarah Palin's father
"We never talk politics with Sarah," Chuck Heath said

JACKIE LONG: When Sarah was growing up, did you have any sense that there was something big to come?

Chuck Heath: [Sarcastically] Yeah right, we knew from the moment she was in her crib. You know, that's one of the most common questions we get asked: Could we see this coming? No, no, not at all. We remember she was very competitive, strong willed, but as far as politics, no, we never saw it coming.

Sally Heath: No. But then when she ran for city council because she saw some needs in the town of Wasilla, then I could see an interest there that must have been there for years, in trying to make things better.

JL: So did it surprise you at that stage?

SH: Yes, yes, very much.

JL: But there has always been the competitive edge.

SH: Competitive yes, from her dad, yes, I would say.

CH: In sports, anything she undertakes she's competitive, whether it's hunting or fishing or sports or politics, very, very competitive.

SH: But as far as getting into a race first for city council, I don't think it had to do with competition, but it ended up that way. It's all very competitive, but that wasn't the priority, just to get in there and compete for a position.

JL: Would you say that some of the drive that she showed in sport, for example, as a child, that she did channel that drive into politics?

CH: Oh yeah, yeah. Very very competitive

SH: To get your mind set on something and go for it, I suppose that did come from sports also, it was along the same line.

JL: If you look at the timeline, it's been extraordinarily quick, her rise. Has that surprised you?

CH: [Chuckling] I don't know how to answer that.

SH: Extremely surprised. We would have had no clue when Mr McCain... well even before that when she was running for governor, that there would be a chance that she would even get a foot in the door of state-wide politics. Yes, that was a real surprise.

JL: In terms of getting a foot in the door of state-wide politics, you're potentially now talking about foot in the door of the presidency. What is your feeling about that as her parents?

CH: The presidency? That's entirely up to her, yeah. We'll support her in any endeavour she wants to jump into. I don't have that much feeling on it, other than total support for whatever she does. If she wants to stay home and baby-sit, I'll support that.

SH: As a mother I have concerns: her safety and that of the kids. I do have a concern there, if she were to do that.

JL: Would you ever allow that concern to make you suggest to her, 'don't do it'?

CH: We never talk politics with Sarah. When we're with her, we talk about family, we talk about sports, we talk about hunting, fishing. I don't think we ever talk about politics.

JL: She says in her book, though, that she runs things past the family?

SH: [Laughing] Yeah, runs things past us very quickly. Yes, I have voiced my concern.

CH: Not me. She doesn't want to listen to me.

SH: She knows how I feel. It's risky, it is risky, and she knows that I am very concerned about that.

JL: And what does she say to you about that? How does she respond to your concerns?

SH: That she will do what's right and she feels badly that I do worry so much but she will do what is right. She's not jumping into anything without checking out the pros and cons.

CH: The only thing that worries us most is her safety. Because she is, I won't say lackadaisical, but she was raised in a very small town, small family, and there's too many kooks out there, she's beginning to see it, people threatening her through the mail, we help handle her mail. There are some weirdoes. We have pictures posted in our house here of people who have threatened her, even, then have even been in Anchorage.

JL: And people have threatened her life?

CH: Oh yeah, oh yeah. And her kids too.

JL: In what way, what are they saying?

CH: A good example is one guy from Pennsylvania. He sent us and other people copies of a gun he'd bought, copies of a receipt for a gun he bought, copies of a one-way ticket to Anchorage. We kind of laugh it off, we got a restraining order on him, and lo and behold last week he showed up in Anchorage, from Pennsylvania, and fortunately the FBI was on top of it and sent him home.

JL: You say you laugh it off, but what does Sarah say about it? It must be terrifying.

CH: Well, she has good security when she goes places but here in Wasilla she doesn't have that good of security, other than family, friends and things like that. Not only Sarah has been threatened but her whole family has been threatened. We sleep with the guns.

SH: But the local police will do whatever we ask. They will drive by her place and they'll keep an eye on things. They're concerned.

JL: She clearly evokes huge passion, she has a massive following, people adore her, her supporters are very devoted, but at the same time she clearly evokes a lot of negative feelings. But the fact that people would threaten to kill her, how do you feel about that?

SH: I just can't imagine anybody being that adamant one way or the other, actually. That's just one out of many thousands. So, it sure doesn't happen too much.

CH: No.

SH: And as far as all these negative feelings, I don't know, everybody seems so nice to us.

JL: On a less extreme level, she has faced huge criticism and very personal criticism at times. How do you cope with that?

SH: I can't imagine what specifically they would object to, and that's what I would like to hear, and what I imagine Sarah would like to hear: 'well, what specifically do you not like?' And when we do read comments and then someone's asked, and they'll say 'well someone told me, such and such'. But truly, I do not know.