Palin’s Troopergate Moves Getting Bad Reviews in Alaska

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Alaska Attorney General, Talis Colberg

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Alaska Attorney General, Talis Colberg

Time.com has just come out with coverage on Alaskans’ reactions to the prolonged Troopergate investigation which has dragged on for months due in large part to the stalling tactics of both Governor Sarah Palin and the staff of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.  According to journalist Nathan Thornburgh, writing from Anchorage, complaints as to how Gov. Palin has handled the Troopergate probe are growing among both citizens and politicians throughout the state of Alaska.

On Monday, Sarah Palin’s lawyers announced the Alaska governor’s intention to cooperate with the Troopergate investigation.

Sort of.

Palin won’t actually cooperate with the original investigation – the one approved unanimously by a majority Republican committee in the state legislature this summer, which Palin welcomed in a spirit of transparency and accountability before she became the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential nominee. The Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee had started the inquiry when former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan alleged he might have been dismissed for not firing the allegedly loutish State Trooper Mike Wooten, who was in a bitter custody battle with Palin’s sister Molly McCann and accused of threatening members of the governor’s family. The investigation has since been painted by McCain and Palin backers as a purely partisan exercise, particularly because the committee chair, Sen. Hollis French is an Anchorage Democrat who made several seemingly prejudicial statements to the media early on, including saying that the probe could yield an “October surprise” right before the election. Palin Spokeswoman Meg Stapleton says French has already made up his mind about the governor’s guilt and at this point is “just leading people into an ambush.”

Instead, Palin plans to cooperate with an investigator from the State Personnel Board. That investigator is a Democrat but the board’s three members are political appointees who ultimately answer to the governor herself. (One was appointed by Palin, the other two by her predecessor). They got involved only after Palin took the unusual step of filing an ethics complaint against herself in early September to spark an investigation that her lawyers hoped would overshadow – and effectively kill – the legislature’s inquiry.

But the Senate inquiry is moving ahead. Last week, after many of Palin’s aides and associates, as well as her husband, reversed themselves and refused to testify in front of the legislative committee, French said the Senate investigator would issue its findings on the matter in early October with or without their testimony. As if to parry that move, Palin’s lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, met with the Personnel Board’s investigator Monday, and promised that Tuesday he would furnish a list of who would be interviewed. The McCain campaign told the Associated Press that after Tuesday the entire Personnel Board process would be confidential and the campaign will have no further comment. The Alaska Personnel Board is the “only legal forum in the state for the Monegan inquiry,” Palin’s spokesperson explained.

For many Alaskans, all this maneuvering is a bit too clever. Palin’s jockeying doesn’t just clash with her previous image as a good-government reformer. It strikes some here almost as a matter of state sovereignty. There was grumbling when the McCain campaign brought in a high-powered cheechako (that’s an outsider), former federal terrorism prosecutor Ed O’Callaghan, to dictate the governor’s strategy and deal with the media. Spokeswoman Stapleton says that O’Callaghan is in Alaska because she and Van Flein need the extra help, and that the media has made this a national issue, so bringing in advisers from outside of Alaska is only appropriate. But the campaign’s public bashing of Monegan, a widely respected longtime public official in the state, also didn’t help its case. Now that O’Callaghan’s hardball tactics are becoming clearer, the complaints have grown louder, from all sides of the political spectrum.

As the Anchorage Daily News wrote in a blistering op-ed over the weekend: “Is it too much to ask that Alaska’s governor speak for herself, directly to Alaskans, about her actions as Alaska’s governor?

But almost every move she has made related to Troopergate since she was named McCain’s running mate has damaged her credibility and standing. Most recently the shifting public explanations for why Monegan was fired have looked shaky – at one point it was that they didn’t share the same general law enforcement priorities, at another it was that he hadn’t done enough to crack down on rural bootlegging, and most recently it was for his unauthorized travel to Washington to lobby for federal dollars. Coming after many Democrats complained that the McCain campaign appeared to be trying to run out the clock on the investigation, the campaign’s announcement that Palin will work with the Personnel Board is designed to blunt such criticism and show voters nationwide a renewed openness in the case. But it’s unclear whether the board will actually reach any findings before the November 4 election.

Even in iconoclastic Alaska there are rabid Democrats and rabid Republicans who now only view Troopergate through the lens of national politics. But far more people, on both sides, see this as a more nuanced situation, and one that may end up costing Palin more here than it ever should have.

Palin’s Troopergate Moves Getting Bad Reviews in Alaska

Edward O'Callaghan and Megan Stapleton of the McCain-Palin campaign.

Edward O'Callaghan and Megan Stapleton of the McCain-Palin campaign.

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