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Palin, really a special needs advocate?

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
During the Oct. 15, 2008 presidential debate, First Read made the point that there remain many unanswered questions as to what Sarah Palin's specific policy initiatives would be for children with special needs after John McCain claimed that no one knows more about autism than Sarah Palin. 

Here's what we wrote, in part:

"Because Palin has a child with Down Syndrome, it can be safely assumed she feels a connection with parents of children with special needs. But what does McCain-Palin specifically want to do about special education? Do they agree with IDEA? Do they want to expand rights for special-education students to private schools? Do they want to increase funding? Do they want more access, by way of funding, to special-ed advocates?

In public appearances, Palin has voiced support and advocacy for special needs children: "To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters," she said on Oct. 24, 2008. "I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House."

Today, The Daily Beast has a piece on how special needs advocates are wary of Palin, whom they view as either out of step with their policy priorities or having unclear policy positions on what she would do to help the disabled.

From the piece:

"From crusading against Rahm Emanuel's use of the term 'retarded' to criticizing the Fox cartoon Family Guy for depicting a character with Down syndrome whose mother is 'governor of Alaska,' Sarah Palin has positioned herself in recent weeks as a national spokesperson on disability issues. Yet leading disability-rights organizations in Alaska, Washington, D.C., and across the country tell The Daily Beast they view Palin's increasing outspokenness on the issue with skepticism, noting that on most of their policy priorities—from health-care reform to increased federal funding for community services—Palin is either out of step with many national disability-advocacy groups or has yet to articulate a clear position. ... [O]n the policy level, Palin has a mixed and murky record on disability organizations' priorities. ...

"Indeed, though the Democratic Party has historically been more enthusiastic about funding health-care and education programs that serve disabled people, the key pieces of legislation addressing disability rights, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975, passed with bipartisan support. Bob Dole, Orin Hatch, Sam Brownback, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers are among the Republican politicians who have prioritized disability policy issues.

"So far, Palin has not demonstrated the same depth of interest. Adam Pockriss, a spokesperson for Autism Speaks, wrote in an email to The Daily Beast that since the 2009 Westchester fundraising walk, 'Sarah Palin hasn't had any further involvement with Autism Speaks; nor has she taken a position on any autism-related policy items, to our knowledge.'"

Palin has drawn crowds of parents of children with disabilities to some of her events, but even as she professed to be their greatest advocates during the 2008 campaign questions were being asked as to what she would do when it comes to funding. At the end of the day, that's where a legislator can have the greatest impact.

And Palin was on record in wanting to reject stimulus funds to her state -- millions of which included special education funding.