Tag Archives: Legislative Council

In Alaska, Exposure Changes Palin Image for Good & Bad

Palins image has changed, for better and worse, in the six weeks since she joined the McCain ticket.

Palin's image has changed, for better and worse, in the six weeks since she joined the McCain Republican presidential ticket.

Journalist Sean Cockerham, reporting for the Anchorage Daily News, looks ahead at Governor Sarah Palin’s political future after the presidential election, both in Alaska and on a national level.  Following her polarizing, negative campaign for the vice-presidency, Gov. Palin will be faced with a much more aggressive Alaska Legislature that will no longer be intimidated by her or the tactics of her financial backers.

Over the past six weeks, Sarah Palin has morphed on the national campaign trail from bipartisan small state governor to a conservative lightning rod. Even if she doesn’t win the vice presidency, her political career will never be the same.

Palin has always attracted controversy, but she is now a far more polarizing figure, both in Alaska as well as nationally, than before her nomination. If she returns, the Republican governor will face former Democratic allies furious at her campaign attacks. She will also face lawmakers from both parties ticked off at her handling of the so-called Troopergate investigation and her recent false assertions that the investigator’s report cleared her, according to interviews with a number of lawmakers and others who watch Alaska politics.

“We’ve seen her do and say things that are shocking to us, so it’s going to be different, to put it mildly,” said Juneau Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula, the House minority leader. “We have a whole different way of looking at her.”

But Palin would also return as a national figure who excited huge crowds across the nation and is already being described as a potential presidential candidate four years from now. She continues to enjoy high approval ratings among Alaskans, and she would come back a seasoned campaigner with new political chops.

“The main thing is, if she comes back as governor and McCain didn’t win, I do not think she’ll be blamed for it all. She won’t come back as a loser,” said Anchorage political consultant and pollster Dave Dittman. “She’d come back, I think as a winner, or as a person who if McCain had paid more attention to her or followed her lead could have been successful. I think she’d come back strong.”

The McCain-Palin campaign is down in the polls, but nearly three weeks remain until election day. In the meantime, her unexpected rise to the national stage and her new political persona has Alaskans speculating about what happens if she doesn’t win and comes back as governor.

“It’s a question on everybody’s mind,” said Mike Hawker, a Republican state representative from Anchorage.

Gregg Erickson, former publisher of a publication on state government who has watched Alaska politics for decades, predicted a rougher road for Palin than in the past.

“I think things will be very, very different for her if she comes back,” Erickson said. “She’s done some things as vice-presidential candidate that are not favorable for her role as governor, her ability to govern.”

Dittman agreed that a returning Palin would face a more aggressive Legislature than before her turn on the national stage, one that probably wouldn’t be as intimidated by her as before.

Palin has always been much more popular with the public than with legislators. Back when pollsters measured her approval rating among Alaskans in the 80 percent range, it was tough for legislators to resist her. Her Alaska approval ratings have dropped since her nomination to as low as 62 percent, at least according to some pollsters. That’s still an enviable approval rating.

The strength of the opposition, Erickson said, would depend on whether she slid any more after the election was over.

A NEW PALIN?

Palin foes and allies agree she’s likely to seek another national office if she doesn’t win the vice presidency. While she has been ridiculed by some, she has a devoted base of supporters and there’s speculation a U.S. Senate run could be in her future, or even a presidential bid the next time the Republican nomination comes open.

North Pole Republican state Rep. John Coghill said if Palin returns to Alaska as governor, there will always be the question of whether her decisions are being made for the good of the state or to position herself for national office.

“If she comes back then she’s going to have to be very clear of what her motives are in her decisions,” Coghill said.

Coghill said, overall, he’d expect a returning Palin to be more experienced and a little savvier. He said Palin would have national horsepower that she could use to advance Alaska’s interests. He said it would put Alaska in a “nice, favored position.”

But Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton suggested in his newsletter this week that Palin’s broadside about Barack Obama “palling around with terrorists” and other one-liners from rallies have potential blowback for Alaska if Obama is elected and Palin has to work with the Democratic administration.

It’s clear that Palin’s relationship with Alaska Democrats is in deep freeze. That’s a turnaround from pre-nomination days, when Palin’s fiercest critics in the Legislature were Republicans and she relied on Democrats to get through her two biggest bills — a tax increase on oil companies and a license for a Canadian firm to pursue a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, one of the legislators who allied with her on those big issues in Juneau, said he “barely recognizes” the current Palin.

“It’s disappointing to see her bashing Democrats when her main political successes would never have passed without significant support from Democrats,” he said.

Anchorage Republican Hawker said Palin’s frostier relationship with the Democrats could have the effect of helping some Republican legislators warm up to her who weren’t Palin fans before. Hawker said Palin might also now realize that “just because you are a Republican in Alaska does not make you an evil person.”

Many Alaska Republican legislators have complained Palin has been too broad during her time as governor in suggesting that the state’s politics are corrupt.

REBUILDING TRUST

Kenai Republican Rep. Mike Chenault, considered to be a potential speaker of the state House when the Legislature convenes in January, said it remains to be seen how Palin’s new political persona plays with Republican lawmakers.

“It’s hard to say which if any Republicans would change their position on the governor based upon either her running for vice president or her handling of Troopergate,” Chenault said.

There’s resentment among some legislators of both parties for how Palin handled the Legislature’s investigation into her dismissal of her public safety commissioner and if she improperly pressured him to fire a state trooper once married to her sister.

The governor’s surrogates bashed the Alaska Democratic legislators leading the investigation, who were some of her biggest allies on oil and gas issues, saying they were Obama fans who made their bias clear. The investigation, though, was authorized by unanimous vote of the bipartisan Legislative Council, and some Republicans bristled at Palin’s refusal to cooperate in it as well as her attorney general’s failed challenge of the Legislature’s subpoenas.

Steve Branchflower, the investigator hired by the Legislative Council, released his report on Friday concluding that Palin abused her power and broke state ethics law in pressing for the trooper to be fired. But Palin’s response to the report was to say that she was vindicated and “I’m very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing … any hint of any kind of unethical activity there.”

The report said Palin’s removal of her commissioner, Walt Monegan, was not solely about his refusal to fire the state trooper but it was likely a contributing factor. Palin has the right to dismiss a commissioner for any reason she likes.

Legislators are far from united in their reaction to the report, with some Republicans agreeing with Palin it was a political circus. There’s no sign lawmakers are planning to take any formal action against Palin. But hard feelings abound.

“Those people who don’t believe and don’t support the governor, I think the events will perhaps exacerbate their outrage,” said Hawker, the Anchorage Republican. Likewise, he said, Palin supporters are likely to “express their moral outrage at what they feel is a persecution of the governor.”

If she comes back as governor, Hawker said, “It will be one of her immediate challenges to get through, rebuilding fences, rebuilding trust. Those issues will be there with both the Democrats and the Republicans.”

Exposure Changes Palin Image for Good & Bad

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Alaska’s High Court Will Consider Appeal to Block Palin Probe

By Tony Hopfinger

Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) — The Alaska Supreme Court will consider an appeal by Republican lawmakers and the state attorney general to block a legislative investigation into Governor Sarah Palin‘s firing of the state police chief.

The court agreed late yesterday to review a decision by state Superior Judge Peter Michalski, who on Thursday dismissed a request by five Republican state lawmakers to halt the investigation. Also involved in the suit is Attorney General Talis Colberg, who was denied a request to block subpoenas of Palin aides to testify in the probe.

Lawyers representing the lawmakers and Colberg argued in state court that the probe has become tainted by politics. The case took on national importance after Republican presidential nominee John McCain picked Palin as his running mate.

The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments Oct. 8 and rule by the end of Oct. 9, one day before the legislative investigation is due to be completed.

On July 31, the Alaska Legislative Council, a bipartisan committee that conducts business when the legislature isn’t in session, began the probe into Palin’s July 11 firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. The police chief said he was dismissed for refusing to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a divorce and custody battle with Palin’s sister.

Palin and her supporters say the legislative probe is politically biased. She is cooperating with a separate investigation conducted by the state Personnel Board.

The Legislative Council, headed by Democrats, has called for the probe to be completed by Oct. 10, less than a month before the presidential election. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and other lawmakers have sought to have the completion date pushed back until after the Nov. 4 election.

Alaska’s High Court Will Consider Appeal to Block Palin Probe

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s Ethics Investigation: True Lies

Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green

Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green

Alaskans are becoming increasingly frustrated by the disregard of the “Troopergate” investigation shown by Governor Sarah Palin and the McCain presidential campaign staff who have descended on the state.  In a September 25, 2008 article for the Anchorage Press by Brendan Joel Kelley, Alaska Republican Attorney General Talis Colberg is on vacation to parts unknown while Ed O’Callaghan and Meg Stapleton continue to block the investigation. 

 

Attorney General Colberg (right) stated in a letter September 16 that ten state employees would not be cooperate with their subpoenas.  Gov. Palin’s husband Todd Palin, who has also been subpoenaed, did not appear for his scheduled testimony last week.  Although advising witnesses not to appear when subpoenaed is a clear violation of the law … Alaska Statute 11.56.545 … this doesn’t seem to have stopped someone (Colberg? O’Callaghan?) from doing just that. 

Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green expressed great concern as to the steamroller tactics of the McCain campaign in taking over what was clearly an internal state government ethics investigation.  Due to the difficulties in reconvening the state legislature for a special session to take some action in the investigation, it would appear at this point that “Troopergate” is unlikely to be resolved until after the national presidential election is held in November.

Whether or not the Republican presidential ticket wins in November, Alaskans are already living in McCainistan. It seems Governor Palin and Attorney General Talis Colberg have simply abdicated their positions, leaving operatives from the McCain campaign in charge of the executive branch (including the Department of Law) while attempting to undermine the authority of the legislative branch.

As one watches Governor Palin stumble through the three interviews she’s done since being announced as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, and as one reads the reports in the national media of Palin being sequestered far away from inquisitive reporters, and as one hears that requests for information about both her record as governor for the past 21 months and the legislative investigation into whether she improperly dismissed former Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan are being shunted to the McCain campaign, it’s a bit jaw-dropping to attend one of the “truth squad” pressers and repeatedly hear that Palin is “an open book.” Actually it’s worse than jaw-dropping: It’s insulting. A visibly frustrated Sean Cockerham of the Anchorage Daily News expressed what most in the room were thinking at Tuesday’s installment of the Palin “truth squad” charade: “[Governor Palin] says she’s an open book, she wants her story to be told, then why does she not speak to the press?”

While Attorney General Talis Colberg is “vacationing” somewhere in the Midwest, we’re treated to a shrill performance by former Palin spokesperson Meg Stapleton, who glances up from her script occasionally to sneer smugly at the reporters in the room (see for yourself in video posted at ADN’s Alaska Politics blog).

Then, once she’s read her prepared statement, Ed O’Callaghan, until recently co-chief of the terrorism and national security unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in New York, takes questions, while Stapleton gazes dreamily at him, lips pursed.

O’Callaghan is billed as a McCain campaign spokesman, but why would a Justice Department prosecutor quit his job and fly to Alaska to be a mere flack? Because, by his own admission, he’s also advising Thomas Van Flein, an Anchorage lawyer representing the Palins in the Wootengate inquiry. Van Flein was originally retained by Alaska’s Department of Law; the McCain camp says that that contract has been terminated. Meanwhile, O’Callaghan can’t-or won’t-answer to what extent attorneys from the McCain campaign are advising the Department of Law.

Since Palin was named to the Republican ticket, Van Flein (with the counsel of O’Callaghan and another “volunteer” attorney that the Truthers declined to name) has asserted that the legislature has no authority to investigate the dismissal of Monegan, and that the state’s Personnel Board-which answers to the governor-has jurisdiction over such matters.

“Today, we reiterate and emphasize the ongoing cooperation in the truly independent investigation involving the only legal forum in the state for the Monegan inquiry,” Stapleton said Monday. “As you know, that is the Personnel Board.”

Except that we don’t know that. And that was never asserted prior to Palin’s August 29 selection by McCain as his running mate.

And that’s not the least of the inaccuracies and inconsistencies being peddled by Stapleton and O’Callaghan.

When Stapleton alleged that Senator Hollis French (D-Anchorage) decided not to subpoena Palin’s former chief of staff Mike Tibbles, KTUU’s Jason Moore pointed out that it was actually Fairbanks Republican Representative Jay Ramras that requested Tibbles not be subpoenaed. Following that report on KTUU, Stapleton called Moore’s wife and told her that Moore was calling Stapleton and O’Callaghan liars, then followed up by calling KTUU news director Steve Mac Donald to complain.

In trying to paint Commissioner Monegan as a rogue, the Truthers alleged that Monegan had sought to go to Washington, D.C. in July to seek federal funds to fight sexual violence in Alaska without the administration’s approval (the campaign called this “the final straw”). However, ABC News unearthed the travel authorization-signed by Palin’s chief of staff Mike Nizich-authorizing Monegan to go to Washington to attend a meeting with Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Now Attorney General Colberg is missing in action after writing a letter on September 16 advising Legislative Council chair Senator Kim Elton (D-Juneau) that ten state employees would not cooperate with the subpoenas that the Senate Judiciary issued. Three, including Todd Palin, failed to show up last week, and the other seven are due to appear before the House Judiciary Committee this Friday.

It’s worth noting that if Colberg-or O’Callaghan-advised any of the subpoenaed witnesses not to appear, it appears to violate Alaska Statute 11.56.545, which makes it a class A misdemeanor to knowingly induce a witness to be absent from an “official proceeding,” which is defined as a “proceeding heard before a legislative, judicial, administrative, or other governmental body or official authorized to hear evidence under oath.”

Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) has asked the state troopers to investigate whether witness tampering has occurred. “We’re looking at the statutes and the facts,” he says. “It’s pretty serious charges, so we’re not going to say that we know who’s broken the law.”

In Gara’s letter to Colonel Audie Holloway, he writes, “I do not know whether it is advice from staff for the McCain campaign, state counsel, private cousel, or from others, or whether these witnesses may have [chosen not to appear] independently of advice or suggestions from third persons. But it seems a witness would not risk the possible jail time that comes with the violations of a subpoena without advice of others.”

State Senate President Lyda Green (R-Wasilla) is exploring what actions the legislature can take at this point as well. “Reconvening the senate is one of the options,” she says. “I have an idea this will roll over into the next legislative year, and I have an idea that to try to reconvene the legislature after two rather long special sessions would be very difficult.”

Green says she welcomes the presence of national campaigns here in Alaska, but “I’m very concerned that [the McCain campaign has] become the spokesperson for the governor and her husband and issues concerning an Alaska legislature’s special investigator. I do feel the national Republican campaign is asserting way too much influence. It’s my understanding that the other day someone called the governor’s office to inquire about [the Monegan investigation] and they were given the McCain campaign number. That’s, to me, a very questionable use. I don’t know that it’s unethical, illegal, or improper, but to me it’s a very strange tie, since generally candidates are cautioned to keep your office and your campaign totally separate.”

The McCain campaign and Van Flein have insisted that Monegan and Stephen Branchflower, the investigator hired by the legislature to pursue the inquiry, are friends. But there is evidence to the contrary. “Steve Branchflower and Walt Monegan, if anything, probably have an adversarial relationship,” Senator Green says.

She’s referring to the 2002 murder of retired Commissioner of Public Safety Glenn Godfrey, when a former girlfriend of Godfrey’s, Karen Brand, entered the home, killed Glenn Godfrey, shot Godfrey’s wife Patricia four times, and then killed herself. Patricia Godfrey called 911, but it took police and medical personnel nearly an hour to find the Godfrey’s Eagle River home. Walt Monegan was the chief of the Anchorage Police Department at the time.

Patricia Godfrey filed a complaint with the Office of Victim’s Rights, whose director at the time was Stephen Branchflower. Branchflower’s subsequent investigation and report found that the APD, under Monegan’s reign, violated the victims’ rights by releasing confidential information about them at a press conference, and that APD’s delayed emergency response violated Patricia Godfrey’s right to immediate medical assistance, and that the delayed response was not an isolated event for the APD under Monegan’s watch.

On Tuesday, in a combative session with reporters, Stapleton and O’Callaghan said that Governor Palin-the “open book”-would be cooperating with the Personnel Board’s investigator, Timothy Petumenos, and that both Todd and Sarah Palin were working on scheduling interviews with Petumenos.

But this assertion that the Personnel Board investigation-launched suddenly after Palin’s nomination-is valid and nonpartisan, while the legislature’s investigation is irrevocably tainted by partisanship, is, quite simply, bullshit.

Last week, two lawsuits-one from five state legislators-were filed seeking to dismiss the Legislative Council’s investigation on grounds that it was partisan (never mind that Republican legislators were among those who’ve voted in favor of both the initial investigation and the subpoenas that it issued).

On Tuesday, came news that the Legislative Council has hired an attorney to file their own suit, this one asking the courts to quash those two lawsuits. In a press release from the office of attorney Peter Maasen, who’s representing the Council, the obvious is finally stated: “The complaints suggest that Alaska legislators with open political views should be prohibited from participating in any legislative function that might-might-reflect badly on Governor Palin, at least until the national election is over.

“The Alaska legislature is comprised of people with open political views, both Republican and Democrat. That does not disqualify them from legislative functions, not even during election season, and not even if powerful and increasingly heavy-handed national interests wish it were otherwise.”

True Lies