September 01, 2008 6:52 PM The campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., likes to herald the independence of its new running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Officials of the Alaskan Independence Party say that Palin was once so independent, she was once a member of their party, which, since the 1970s, has been pushing for a legal vote for Alaskans to decide whether or not residents of the 49th state can secede from the United States. And while McCain's motto -- as seen in a new TV ad -- is "Country First," the AIP's motto is the exact opposite -- "Alaska First -- Alaska Always." Lynette Clark, the chairman of the AIP, tells ABC News that Palin and her husband Todd were members in 1994, even attending the 1994 statewide convention in Wasilla. Clark was AIP secretary at the time. "We are a state's rights party," says Clark, a self-employed goldminer. The AIP has "a plank that challenges the legality of the Alaskan statehood vote as illegal and in violation of United Nations charter and international law." She says it's not accurate to describe the party as secessionist -- they just want a vote, she says, adding that the members of the AIP hold different opinions on what Alaska should be. "My own separate opinion as an individual is that we should be an independent nation," Clark says. Others in the AIP "believe that being a commonwealth would be a good avenue to follow." Some advocate statehood -- but a fuller statehood than exists now. She doesn't know what Palin's position was. "It never came up in conversation," Clark recalls. "But when she joined the party, our platform was right under her nose." Clark says that Palin left the party and became a Republican in 1996, when she first ran for mayor of Wasilla. The McCain-Palin campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The AIP platform states that the purpose of the party is to "seek the complete repatriation of the public lands, held by the federal government, to the state and people of Alaska in conformance with Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17, of the federal constitution ... To prohibit all bureaucratic regulations and judicial rulings purporting to have the effect of law, except that which shall be approved by the elected legislature ... To support the privatization of government services ...” Walter Hickel, a former Republican governor, was elected to the governorship in 1990 as an AIP member -- the third-largest party in Alaska -- with a plurality vote of 38.8%. A Seattle Post-Intelligencer story that year said that "Hickel is running with the Alaska Independence Party, a fringe group advocating that the 49th state declare itself a sovereign nation. But he's not a separatist; he's an opportunist: the Independence Party was the only 11th-hour ticket to the general election." Hickel returned to the Republican Party in 1994; he endorsed Palin in her gubernatorial run in 2006. Subsequent AIP gubernatorial candidates did not fare as well as did Hickel, garnering less than 2 percent of the vote. Earlier this year, Palin sent a video message to the AIP for its annual convention, where AIP vice chair George Clark told the small crowd that Palin "was an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town –- that was a non-partisan job. But you get along to go along -– she eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics, and well, I won’t go into that. She also had about an 80 percent approval rating, and is pretty well sympathetic to her former membership." Lynette Clark says that Palin is "a fine individual. She's forthright and she puts Alaska first." She is not a fan of McCain. "I can't understand why in God's name she has aligned herself with a candidate who opposes the development of our republic and Alaska's resource wealth," Clark says.