A CULTURE WARRIOR ON THE TICKET…. For years, mayoral races in Wasilla, Alaska, were nonpartisan and centered around local issues. Then, in 1996, Sarah Palin ran, and voters in the small town were introduced to hard-right wedge politics.

“Sarah comes in with all this ideological stuff, and I was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” said Mr. Stein, who lost the election. “But that got her elected: abortion, gun rights, term limits and the religious born-again thing. I’m not a churchgoing guy, and that was another issue: ‘We will have our first Christian mayor.’ ”

“I thought: ‘Holy cow, what’s happening here? Does that mean she thinks I’m Jewish or Islamic?’ ” recalled Mr. Stein, who was raised Lutheran, and later went to work as the administrator for the city of Sitka in southeast Alaska. “The point was that she was a born-again Christian.”

The result was a mayor who didn’t exactly “bring people together.” The New York Times added that Palin’s first few months were “so jarring — and so alienating — that an effort was made to force a recall.” The idea was eventually dropped.

What was it that locals found jarring? Palin reportedly asked the library, for example, about the process for banning books. One local resident said Palin found some texts “morally or socially objectionable.” The librarian, who resisted mayoral censorship, was fired shortly after Palin took office, though Palin reversed course after a local outcry, and later said the discussions about banning books were “rhetorical.” (No, I don’t know what that means, either.)

Frankly, all of this may seem rather trivial. The performance of a young mayor of a small town in Alaska 12 years ago probably sounds inconsequential in the context of a national presidential campaign. Maybe so. But as it turns out, this is some of the most substantive work in Sarah Palin’s public record, so I’m afraid we don’t have much of a choice but to give it close scrutiny.

And as we look, it’s hard not to notice that Palin sounds a lot like a religious right-style culture warrior.

Post Script: I should add, by the way, that Palin’s mayoral tenure wasn’t limited to fights over banning books at a public library. She also racked up nearly $20 million in long-term debt for the small town, which amounts to about $3,000 per resident. And now she’s ready to bring that leadership to the nation. How encouraging.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.