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Lessons in HR Management from Palin's Selection

By Keith EpsteinCorporate boards and HR specialists everywhere might learn something from the Republicans’ unfolding (Democrats hope, unraveling) experience in choosing a little-known, virtually unexamined candidate for the vice presidential ticket. The New York Times, Anchorage Daily News and others are reporting the rather skimpy background checking by John McCain’s campaign – and very brief pre-announcement encounter by the two – that might have turned up disclosures now making their way onto television and the blogosphere.

How well do you really know that executive you just interviewed and offered a job with a handshake? You can trust those who vouched for the job candidate, but is that enough? How much investigation is enough investigation? How do you balance too much asking around about a CEO or other prospective job candidate – without risking premature disclosure? Hopefully better than the McCain campaign appears to have known Sarah Palin.

McCain appears to have relied on some heavy Googling and the word of some important conservative Christians. Vetters didn’t even bother to ask many obvious acquaintances among top Alaska legislators and associates at a state regulatory agency of the energy industry. Some now are even questioning what this might say about McCain’s leadership abilities. Will the big bang from McCain’s choice of the Barracuda cause a boomerang effect back on the Republicans’ presumptive boss?

For now, of course, Republicans – and conservatives – appear to be backing the choice. And indeed, the revelations receiving the most attention, involving a daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy and Sarah Palin’s own decision to have a baby with Down syndrome, seem to be underscoring rather than undermining McCain’s pro-life stance. But GOP hands from Anchorage to their encampment in Minnesota are now beginning to ask other questions. Among them: Is there some other distracting revelation to come? Will there be more news diverting attention from the campaign? Already, the party is dealing with a focus on her 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy, her membership in a fringe party that backed independence for Alaska, her possible involvement in the firing of a state trooper who happened to be locked in a bitter custody battle with her sister, and the unusual amount of earmarks steered to her small town.

Other questions: Was the vetting done sufficiently? NBC reports that as of Friday when McCain announced his choice, no one had even visited Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin was mayor before becoming Alaska’s governor, to look through the archives of the local newspaper, the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. Reports NBC: “Aides were sent to pour over that newspaper after Palin was picked.” The Frontiersman’s Sept. 2 headline: “Under the Microscope.” In the Alaska town of 7,200 it’s come as something of a shock; but for the experienced political hands at McCain’s side, that could have been expected.

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