Palin vs. Murkowski….Another Epic Battle?

2 12 2008

athenaToday an article in Huffington Post has picked up on what could be, in Alaska, an epic battle come next year. In a tale worthy of Greek Mythology, Sarah Palin could be preparing to take on Senator Lisa Murkowski for her seat which becomes available in 2010.

Our story begins In 2002, when Frank Murkowski decided he’d had enough time in the Senate, and came home to Alaska to run for Governor. Murkowski, who had held the senate seat since 1981, won the gubernatorial bid. But who was to take his now vacant place in the senate? In his first wildly unpopular decision as governor, Murkowski appointed his daughter Lisa to the seat. It also became increasingly obvious over time that Frank was not cutting the mustard. Gas pipeline debacles and battles with the Legislature caused his popularity to plummet like a lead balloon. Adding insult to arrogance, he purchased a private jet to fly himself around the state and elsewhere. There was a radio contest to name the jet, and the winning entry was “The Bald Ego”.

Here’s where you picture Frank in a toga, being fed grapes, and fanned by his staff. Every once in a while, he’d make some bombastic proclamation that made the villagers angry, but other than that he had a pretty good life up on Mt. Olympus. Now and then, he’d wave over to the next mountain top where his daughter Lisa was actually not doing such a bad job being a senator according to the villagers. She wasn’t quite so conservative, appeared to be more ethical, worked harder, and actually seemed to care. Go figure.

Then came a young upstart from one of those outlying provinces from whence heroes always come. She was young, ferocious, and beautiful, and she had her eye on that throne. It was promising to be an epic battle. Troops on both sides rallied. Murkowski’s minions dropped their wine jugs and their platters of figs, and grabbed up weapons. They looked at the rag-tag team of outlanders, and decided that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. All they had to do was keep the power they already had. They had the advantage. How hard could it be? But then the primary battle came, and in David vs. Goliath fashion, with one well-placed stone flung by her sling, Murkowski was struck smack between the eyes by the young woman from the village, and went down like a bag of dirt with a 19% approval rating.

After the stunned silence, the rejoicing began. We did it! One of US beat the grape-eating guy who was making everyone miserable! Sa-rah! Sa-rah! Sa-rah! And the Bald Ego went up for sale in the public marketplace, and Sarah reassigned the grape-peeler to another job, and the villagers loved her. They loved the idea of her. It was perfect. We needed a hero and we got one. Of course, over the months, many of the villagers began to see things they didn’t like. The new Queen started to pull people in from the obscure outlying province and put them in positions of power that they weren’t qualified for. People from the village started disappearing, banished to the hinterlands. She got rid of her humble toga, and started dressing more and more like a grape eater. She started visiting other kingdoms far away where people cheered for her, and attending parties far and wide, while her own kingdom suffered. Some of the villagers who were paying attention started to get a little nervous, and then a little disgruntled, and then downright mad.

But others remembered that humble young girl who flattened Murkowski, and refused to give up their dream. Heroes don’t come easy, and heroic tales must stay as they are written, otherwise it would just be too depressing. Alaskans have lost other heroes lately to greed and corruption and hubris, and this one would be just plain heartbreaking.

And now our Queen is looking around. She’s scanning the horizon, looking at other mountain tops, and new thrones, and new lands to conquer. She remembers Lisa, daughter of Frank the vanquished. Lisa rules the mountaintop over there, closer to all those parties, and cheering crowds. That throne might be nice…

But Lisa feels the gaze of the restless Queen, the one who flattened her father with a stone. She has been holding a white-hot hatred for the Queen who is now known as “Murkowski slayer.” It’s uncomfortable to live one mountain away from someone with that nickname when your own name is Murkowski. She’s been stifling her desire for vengeance, but this frontal assault on her own mountain would be just too much.

Murkowski says a run against her would be fraught with risk. If Palin lost, her stock would drop just ahead of a potential 2012 presidential run. And if she won, she’d be a backbencher in a chamber that is dominated by seniority — and would have to begin her presidential campaign as soon as she took office.

“If she wants to be president, I don’t think the way to the presidency is a short stop in the United States Senate,” Murkowski said.

Asked Monday to respond to Murkowski’s comments, Palin’s communications coordinator, Kate Morgan, said only, “The governor has never stated her intention or desire to run for that office.”

True, she has not stated her intention or desire to run for that office. But there’s an awful lot of activity on Mt. Olympus these days. The blacksmiths are busy, the horses are being counted, and the royal court has a strange glint in their eyes. And one thing we do know is that Queen Sarah’s restless nature is no longer content on her own mountain. Her destiny lies elsewhere. She likes the thrill of the battle, and the villagers know that Queen Lisa’s mountain is the most advantageous to conquer.

So what will the villagers do when 2010 comes? Whose side will they choose? The discontented villagers who’ve been paying attention to Queen Sarah and seeing the same arrogance and hubris that took down her predecessor will rally behind Lisa who has been doing better than her father. Others, who love their heroes, will remember how Lisa got to be Queen of her mountain, and they will remember her father the grape-eater with the jet, and the epic saga of the battle won for the people by that unlikely girl with the sling.

And others of us are still waiting for a brand new, and as yet unknown hero to arrive, and slay them both.





Interesting Rumors from a Reliable Source…

22 11 2008

It’s a relatively quiet day on the Mudflats. That always makes me nervous. It usually means that shortly there are going to be so many things hitting the fan, I won’t even have time to cover them all. That’s been the pattern, anyway.

There’s a little fallout from Turkey Gate. New news is promised on Monday regarding the crazy Stevens trial revelations which one reader brilliantly described as “Dynasty meets Northern Exposure meets The Sopranos.” But other than that, not much news. This gave lots of time today for speculation about things here in Alaska. Will the Governor be running for Lisa Murkowski’s senate seat in 2010, or will she try for another term as governor? And WHO will rise up and run against her? Will Ted Stevens win his appeal? Will I actually be able to consume turkey this Thanksgiving after witnessing Joe the executioner and his cone of death?

But a couple hours ago, I heard a little sound…..a sound you can only hear when it’s quiet. Like a paper envelope being slid under a door. (OK, this happened via email, but it doesn’t make as good a story) Minding my own business, sitting at my rolltop desk, watching the snow fall, the sound made me look up. I turned around, and sure enough I spotted it – an envelope, face down on the wide plank entryway floor. I stood and hurried over to the door, flung it open, and looked right….nothing. Looked left….and I just about made out a glimpse of a black cape as it whisked around the corner and out of sight. Hmmmm. I thought about pursuing the caped stranger, but as I had just been blogging, and following the proper dress code rules, I was in my pajamas and didn’t feel like racing out in the cold.

“Mudflats”. Yes, it was addressed to me. I slit open the envelope, intrigued. No return address, and the letter was signed “A Reputable Source.” (That means I know who it is, but I can’t tell you).

And the contents of the mystery note? A clue. A clue, which addressed one of the very questions I had just been pondering, and it wasn’t the one about the turkey, which won’t be answered until Thanksgiving Day.

The question? Who will step up to be the dragon slayer in 2010? Who has the smarts, the experience, the integrity, and the chutzpah to go toe-to-toe with Sarah Palin, whether she runs for governor, or senator. And there was the answer, scrawled in unfamiliar penmanship – Democratic State Senator Hollis French.

Ahhh. This is good. He is very qualified, has an impressive resume, and is one of the White Knights of the Legislature. Before he gets the official Mudflats endorsement, however (not that this endorsement is particularly coveted), I’m going to wait and watch and see what happens when the Legislature meets again. They have much on their plates, and they need to know they are supported, but they have some tough decisions ahead and people will be watching.

I saw Hollis French on Thursday. He was on line at Costco. That’s why I love this state. Our representatives aren’t somewhere distant, holed up in a marble tower. They don’t seem alien and unapproachable. They are on line at Costco, buying fruit. LOTS of fruit. The man really loves fruit. So, when it becomes appropriate to send something to Hollis French when he becomes our next Governor, or Senator, I’ll make it a fruit basket, and make it under $250.





Alaska’s Senate Race – The Morning After

19 11 2008

Alaska has a Blue Senator. Mark Begich has won the election.

So where do we stand, and what does this mean?

Mark Begich – It means that Mayor Senator Begich gets to pack his bags and head to Washington DC, with his wife and son, to start giving progressive Alaskans and centrists, and people who don’t want a convicted felon representing them in our nation’s capitol, a voice. If he’s wise, and smart, he will take the Ted Stevens debacle as a cautionary tale. If he plays his cards right, he could be there for a long long time, but the Republican party will have him in their sights, and be watching for every little slip-up.

If the Democrats in the Senate are wise and smart, they’ll be really nice to Senator Begich and give him a couple nice feathers in his cap to wear home to Alaska. They know the kind of bombastic, blow hards Alaska is capable of sending to the capitol, and they probably don’t want it to happen again. And they sure don’t want Sarah Palin gunning for an open senate seat in 6 years. Mark Begich will be like salve on a wound for many who have had to endure Ted Stevens for decades.

Who will fill Mayor Begich’s seat after he leaves? Anchorage Assembly Chair Matt Claman. Matt just took over the chairmanship of the Assembly when a surprise progressive majority took over the paralyzingly conservative Anchorage Assembly that had previously been populated by junior versions of the aforementioned bombastic, blow hards. When the Assembly shifted to the left, Claman was chosen. I know Matt Claman and he’s a good guy. He lacks the extroversion and charisma of Begich, but his principles are sound, and he’s a concensus builder, and a rational thinker. He’ll probably do a pretty good job. He’ll be there until April, when the mayoral elections happen. He may decide to run for the position officially at that time. There are several others who have thrown their hat in the ring too. And this may cause some interesting wrangling, since one of those candidates is Assembly Vice Chair Sheila Selkregg. Today’s Anchorage Daily News has an interesting article on these behind the scenes goings on.

Sarah Palin – Well, God sent a message to Sarah. She said if God opened a door, even a crack, she’d “plow through it”. But tonight, when Begich won a clear victory, and the four decade era of Ted Stevens ended, the door firmly shut tight. She will undoubtedly be looking for another door. The three that may open up next are:

  • The Don Young Door – Congressman Don Young will be up for re-election in 2010, but may be out before then. He’s already spend a whopping 1.2 million dollars on legal fees in anticipation of his own coming indictment. Alaskans have been waiting for that shoe to drop for a while now….and it’s coming. It’s just a question of when. Look for headlines coming soon to a paper near you, now that Alaska politics has wormed its way into the national consciousness. But even if Young survives this, his 19th term in Congress, I don’t think Sarah Palin is gunning for his job. I just don’t think Congress is her style.
  • The Lisa Murkowski Door – Now we’re talking. Sarah unseated Lisa’s father Frank Murkowski when she became governor in 2006. This would be the second Murkowski trophy head on her wall. Murkowski hasn’t done a bad job in most Republican’s minds, but she hasn’t knocked their socks off either. It’s not a sure thing by any means that she’d be able to hold her seat against Palin. And the Senate, as we have just witnessed, can be an effective stepping stone to the Presidency, which is what Palin is gunning for in the long run. That’s the door she thinks God will open for her – the big fat door to the Oval Office. She’s “wired for the mission” and would be ready to run in 2012, or 2016.
  • The Direct Door to the Presidency – If Palin can hold on to office for another term, she may be banking on her national celebrity, and name recognition, and her Christian conservative buddies in high places to take her from the governorship to Pennsylvania Avenue…or so she hopes. She’s up for re-election in 2010. And who knows…she may feel fully qualified by that point to throw her hat in the ring anyway.

And what about Ted Stevens, and his suddenly awkward and very visible namesake – The Ted Stevens International Airport. Before we break out the chisels and hammers, the Anchorage Assembly and the Public Facilities Advisory Commission, and who knows who else, will have to do some political soul searching, and have lots of meetings.

Stevens’ legal appeal process moves forward, and he’ll fight tooth and nail, like he always does. And amazingly, he is still eligible, despite his seven felony convictions, for his senate pension of $122,000 a year, courtesy of taxpayers. Although there is a recently-passed federal law that prohibits felons from collecting on these pensions, Stevens’ particular felonies were not on the list, and they were committed before the law went into effect. Maybe next time.





Palin’s Audacity of Hype – Coming to a Bookstore Near You!

17 11 2008

Are you ready for the hard-bound copy of The Audacity of Hype?  Well, Sarah Palin may just oblige, at least, if the law allows.  Poised to rake in a cushy book deal of reportedly up to $7 million, Palin may have to weigh her options.  Alaska state law says that a sitting governor can only hold down one job.  So, “best-selling author” may be an illegal line on the resume…at least for the next two years of her term.

From TimesOnline:

She failed to save John McCainfrom presidential election doom, but Sarah Palin, the Republican senator’s controversial running mate, may yet emerge as the saviour of the American publishing industry. Literary agents are queueing up to sign her to a book deal that could earn her up to $7m.

With Barack Obama’s election victory certain to generate dozens of volumes from politicians, strategists and journalists – and with another shelfload of memoirs expected from members of President George W Bush’s administration – Palin’s personal account of her tumultuous introduction to national politics is widely regarded as the book most likely to repay a multi-million-dollar advance.

“She’s poised to make a ton of money,” said Howard Rubenstein, New York’s best-known public relations adviser.

[snip]

With publishers as nervous as everyone else about next year’s economic prospects, Palin’s popularity has become a boon. “Nobody is waiting for George W Bush’s memoirs,” one New York agent noted.

A provision of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act restricts outside employment. It says: “The head of a principal executive department of the state may not accept employment for compensation outside the agency that the executive head serves.”  So, it sounds like Sarah Palin must continue to live the ascetic life of a state governor, and forego the lucrative, glittering life of a celebrated author and multi-millionaire.

Not so fast…

It would mean this, IF you assumed that Palin thought that the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act was actually binding.  If you will recall, the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act is that very same act that was referred to in the Branchflower Report of the Troopergate Investigation by the Alaska Legislature.

Let’s see…..yes, it’s still right here on my desk…under….this pile of papers… (thumbing through).  Ah.   Page 8, section II – Findings: (clears throat and uses ‘official sounding voice’)

Finding Number One – For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.  Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides

“The legilature reaffirms that each public officer holds ofice as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust”

(Closes giant 264-page report)  So, there you have it.  If she feels comfortable violating THATone, then a job-on-the-side book deal is cake!  It shouldn’t be long before you can pre-order on Amazon.  I’m guessing it’ll be out in time for her 2010 bid for the Senate, when Lisa Murkowski comes up for re-election.

There’s only one thing that would actually make me buy this book, and it’s not going to happen.  I would consider buying the book if, and only if, Palin wrote it herself.  Or better still, if she dictated it verbatim.  I’d put it on my “humor” shelf, and use it as a constant source of entertainment.

But I have a feeling that once an editor (God help the poor soul) got finished with it, and removed all the “also”s and “too though”s, and the rest of the Palinese word salad, and created actual sentences, with subjects and predicates, and got rid of the syntax mutilation, there wouldn’t be much left to say, or much left to be amusing.  And I can imagine shocked colleagues walking into said editor’s office on Monday morning to find him/her lying on the floor, still seated in the toppled chair, gripping a red pen, and muttering quiet little word bits at the ceiling, staring upward with unblinking eyes, gazing into the literary abyss…”must shore up..work together…solutions also…energy independence…don’tcha know…progress the country…”

More likely, since command of the language completely eludes her, there would be a ghost-writer involved somehow, and that would just be no fun at all.





Mark “Stomach of Iron” Begich Speaks.

13 11 2008

begich-kos

Mark Begich made a radio appearance on the Ed Schultz show today. He sounded pretty confident, but not cocky. He’s been through this before. When he was elected Mayor of Anchorage, he won by 18 votes. So his current lead of 814 seems like a landslide! His strong showing in districts with military bases, and out in rural Alaska speak volumes, coming from areas that have traditionally gone to Stevens.

He also discussed Sarah Palin’s potential plans for the future, including either throwing her hat in the ring if Stevens wins and is booted out by the Senate, running in 2010 for the Senate seat currently held by Lisa Murkowski, or running for President in 2012. He also used the word “debacle” when describing the McCain-Palin campaign, which made me smile.

Begich picked up on Palin’s recent quote, “I am not one to appoint myself or a member of my family to take the place of any [Senate] vacancy.” As you all know by now, she couldn’t do that anyway because it’s illegal…but it was a pretty obvious jab at Senator Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed to that position by her father Frank Murkowski when he left his Senate seat to become Governor of the state. He’s the one Palin trounced in the primary when she ran for the position. She may have Murkowski #2 in her cross hairs.

Begich also mentioned that his need to keep his operation going an extra week or two, means he is still welcome donations to the campaign. So, if you want to help him keep the staff he needs to make sure that this counting process goes smoothly, and keep everyone running full steam until the vote is finalized, you can throw him a little love at www.begich.com

Donations big or small would be most appreciated, I’m sure.





So, What’s Next for Sarah Palin?

5 11 2008

palin-183

Sarah Palin has taken the collective soul of national politics, divided and conquered. In eight short weeks, a political unknown from Alaska went from hockey mom Governor, to national megastar, and finally came to rest with the simultaneous titles of “Conservative Rising Star” and “Most Feared Woman in America”. It’s been quite a ride.

Alaskans are sitting here wondering exactly what will happen. A political hush has fallen on the land. There’s been a lot happening up here while our Governor was whisked away to tour the nation, soak up the limelight in front of cheering crowds, and get a taste of political life outside her borders. She was confident, she told us. Confident in her readiness. She was wired for the mission. And no one who was paying attention would argue that point.

But, what IS the mission? When Palin was asked, months before her selection as the VP running mate for John McCain, if she was interested in the position, she came back with her now famous quote, “I’d have to know what it is that the VP does every day.” But, she then went on to say that she would need to know that the position would be “fruitful, especially for Alaska.” She finished up the interview by saying, “This job is pretty cool too.” That made Alaskans feel good. It made us feel like our Governor was special enough to be considered for a spot on the presidential ticket, but wans’t interested in all that. She was thinking of us first, and her commitment to the people of Alaska.

Then a strange transformation began to happen before our eyes. After the surprise nomination, and the subsequent campaigning, our hometown girl started acting differently. Maybe it was the crowds, maybe it was the taste of power, maybe it was Neiman Marcus. But suddenly here was our governor talking about expanding the powers of the Vice President, dropping tens of thousands of dollars in other people’s money on fancy clothes, smearing local politicians and public servants back home, and dropping hints that she’s entered the national scene and may not want to leave, at least for the long term. That was a lot to take for many Alaskans.

We sort of feel like the high school sweetheart whose steady girlfriend went off to the big city and found somebody better, somebody more worldly, somebody with more money, and dropped us like a hot potato. Only now he broke up with her, and she’s on her way back. Awkward.

It remains to be seen if Alaska, the jilted boyfriend will take Sarah back. There are lots of fences to be mended, and relationship counseling in our future. While there are many Sarah fans who will welcome her back with open arms, there are many who have turned their back, and others who feel downright vengeful. It will be a tangled knot to untie.

The Alaska Legislature upon whose bipartisan support Palin depended to actually accomplish things is now fractured. She never had solid Republican support, and depended heavily on friendly Democrats…friendly Democrats that she didn’t think twice about throwing under the bus during the Troopergate investigation. Keep in mind that when I refer to “the Troopergate investigation”, I mean the real one, conducted by the Alaska State Legislature. I don’t mean the one that Palin instigated herself, to investigate herself, to clear herself which was conducted by a 3-person board, appointed by the governor, that reports to Palin herself. Just so we’re clear on that point.

Chances are, too, that the very engaged, very motivated Obama supporters in Alaska were not too pleased with our Governor as she whipped crowds across the nation into a froth about their candidate “palling around with terrorists (plural),” resulting in shouts of “Kill him” and “Terrorist”. We now learn that Palin decided to bring Bill Ayers into the picture without clearing it with the McCain campaign, and that the Secret Service reported an upsurge in threats against the President Elect and his family right around the time that Palin began amping up the divisive rhetoric.

And don’t forget, Palin asked for Republican Senator, and Alaska political icon Ted Stevens to step down after his seven felony convictions for failure to disclose gifts on his Senate disclosure forms. This may seem like an eminently rational thing to do, but remember that Stevens is currently out front in this hotly debated Senate race. The results are so close, we won’t know for two weeks whether Alaskans have indeed elected an 84-year old convicted felon to the U.S. senate. But about half of Alaskans like him enough, despite that fact, to vote for him anyway. This is Stevens country, and Uncle Ted’s troops will be looking at Palin with a critical eye when she pops back into our lives, after shoving him on to the ice floe in front of the nation.

This is the new Sarah Palin, who went from an approval rating hovering at 90% after her election, to inspiring the largest political rally in the history of Alaska – not a rally to congratulate her, but a rally to demand that she come clean with her promise of “open, honest, and transparent” government. And then there was the second-biggest political rally – Alaska Women Reject Palin. And the third biggest – Alaskans for Obama. Any way you look at it, there is now a rabid, engaged group of considerable size that opposes Palin with every fiber of their being, where there used to be none at all.

But, this is also the same Palin who got a hundred or so supporters to line the streets in Wasilla before daybreak to wave signs as her motorcade passed on the way to the airport to join John McCain after she voted in Wasilla on the morning of the 4th. And this is the same Sarah Palin on the presidential ticket that won the state of Alaska handily, despite the amazing organization of the opposition.

Palin has sliced her state down the middle and polarized her constituents in a way that I would not have imagined possible just a few months ago. The majority of Alaskans still support her, but her negative ratings have soared as Alaskans and the rest of the country have gotten to know her, and her political life will not be the cake walk it once was. And there are many investigations, and skeletons in the closet that are just beginning to emerge.

As for her future aspirations? She refuses to give a clear cut answer about 2012, saying that “Oh, you know, it seems like so far.” But Palin has tipped her hand as a political opportunist, and as one who has tasted power, celebrity and adoring crowds, and she likes what she sees. How will she handle going back to li’l old Wasilla? It’s anyone’s guess.

Her next opportunity to move upward on the national politial scene comes if Ted Stevens is elected, and subsequently expelled by the Senate. She is not able to appoint herself or anyone else to the seat, but she is eligible to run for that seat in a special election. Failing that, the next window of opportunity comes in 2010, when Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is up for re-election, as is Republican Congressman Don Young. It is also the year she would run for her next term as Governor. There are many options, but there is a lot of ground to cover between now and then.

Has she so damaged herself politically in the state, that she will become an ineffective Governor, and one-term wonder? Has her foray into national politics captured the imagination of the people so much that they will want to see her back in DC, perhaps making her own presidential bid? Has the national Christian Conservative base found their dream girl? Or has the country, perhaps, in its landslide election of President Elect Obama shown itself to have evolved beyond the culture wars, and to have transcended the divisive politics of the past which Palin has now come to symbolize for so many.

It may be that Palin has found her national niche, but that this niche, with the help of a two-term Bush presidency and a weary nation, has proven too narrow to wield any actual power in turning a national election. Whatever the outcome, there is no question that Sarah Palin has been let out of the box.





McCain Asks Stevens to Step Down. Palin Tiptoes Through the Muck.

28 10 2008

“It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down. I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all.”

So says John McCain in a written statement. He joins ranks with other national Republican leaders in quickly distancing himself from the man who, as a former President Pro Tem of the Senate, was a mere two heartbeats away from the presidency.

Sarah Palin has stopped short of throwing Stevens under the bus. But she did stand there with her arms folded, shaking her head, and watching McCain throw him under the bus. Stevens might view this as “depraved indifference.”

I remember when Palin was running for governor. In the general election, she ran against former two-term Democratic governor (yes, we had one of those once!) Tony Knowles. Whose endorsement helped Palin, a virtual unknown, soar to victory over this battle-tried political veteran? You guessed it – Uncle Ted. It can be argued that Palin’s TV commercials featuring the Stevens endorsement, put her over the top.

To take a quick glance at Palin’s earlier political involvement:

Palin’s name is listed on 2003 incorporation papers of the “Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc.,” a 527 group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors. The group was designed to serve as a political boot camp for Republican women in the state. She served as one of three directors until June 2005, when her name was replaced on state filings.

So, one might argue that Palin’s political career had its start in the metaphorical living room of a convicted felon.

Remember that Ted Stevens was indicted on the charges for which he now stands convicted back in July of 2007. We knew this was coming. The FBI has a pretty good track record of conviction for Alaska legislators who have crawled in bed with oil services company, Veco. As a matter of fact, that track record is 100%.

Ever since that time, Palin has been trying to negotiate her relationship with Stevens. And he with her. Stevens has endorsed McCain and Palin. She has not endorsed him. Neither has she endorsed Mark Begich, Stevens’ Democratic opponent. Now that the verdict has come down, and Stevens has been found guilty of seven felony counts of failure to disclose gifts and services received from Veco, she has still fallen short of condemning him or asking him to step down.

She’s tiptoeing around the issue by saying:

“This is a sad day for Alaska and for Sen. Stevens and his family. The verdict shines a light on the corrupting influence of the big oil service company that was allowed to control too much of our state. … As governor of the state of Alaska, I will carefully monitor this situation and take any appropriate action as needed. In the meantime, I ask the people of Alaska to join me in respecting the workings of our judicial system. I’m confident Sen. Stevens will do what’s right for the people of Alaska.”

Palin, if she does think there’s a reasonable chance that she will have to step down from her place on the national stage, and return to lowly Alaska, does not want to alienate the significant number of Stevens fans that still abound. And the Republican Party in the State has told everyone that convicted felon status should not affect their vote. So, taking the tough national Republican stand and demanding he step down would be burning a lot of bridges here in Alaska.

There has been some widespread speculation about what Palin will do if Stevens does step down, or if the Senate votes to remove him from his seat. Until recently, Palin would, as Governor, have been able to fill that seat with an appointment. But that is no longer the case.

In another bizarre chapter of Alaskan politics, the Frank Murkowski administration covered that one. Frank Murkowski was Alaska’s junior senator from 1980-2002. He decided to run for Governor, and won. That left, an empty senate seat. What to do….what to do…. Murkowski decided to fill the seat, as he was legally allowed to do at the time, with his daughter, Lisa Murkowski. There was a huge uproar. Cries of nepotism! Furious Democrats! Disgruntled Republicans who were vying for the coveted seat. Nobody was happy.

So, when the next election came, there was a ballot initiative which declared that it should not be legal for Governors to make Senatorial appointments. We had learned from THAT mistake. We’re not THAT stupid….no siree. However, at that very same election, the citizens of Alaska re-elected Lisa Murkowski. No, I have no explanation for that one.

This is one of those stories in which the post-election chapters will be far more fascinating that what’s happening now. Right now the national spotlight is shining on Palin and Stevens. But when the lights click off, the party goers leave, and we’re left with a sink full of dirty dishes and some half-inflated balloons, the true picture will emerge.

Uncle Ted is due back in the state tomorrow….to start campaigning. Let the games begin.

UPDATE:

Well, now, according to the New York Times, Sarah Palin has abandoned her thin veil of neutrality, and her red stiletto-heeled foot has met Ted’s butt. KATHUNK… That was the sound of Stevens getting booted under the Straight Talk Express bus.

“I had hoped Senator Stevens would take the opportunity to do the statesman-like thing and erase the cloud that is covering his Senate seat,” she said in a statement. “Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service, but the time has come for him to step aside. Even if elected on Tuesday, Senator Stevens should step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress.”

Guess she decided to burn those bridges to nowhere after all. There are many Alaskans who still stand by Stevens, and this will not play well to “the base.” Palin and Murkowski now stand firmly on opposite sides of this issue. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out.

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Republicans Speak on the Stevens Conviction.

27 10 2008

Sarah who?  Today’s theme in Alaska has been “All Ted, All the Time.”  To be honest, it’s been sort of refreshing to have a break.  We needed to cleanse the brain with something completely different – a mental sorbet between courses of Sarah Palin. 

Let’s ask the obvious question.  “Senator Stevens, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“I am obviously disappointed in the verdict but not surprised given the repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct in this case. … I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have. I am innocent. This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial. I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate.”

That was quick, and it’s no surprise.  Stevens plans to blame the system, and appeal the verdict.  And, yes, he will continue his campaign to retain his Senate seat, and asks for the support of his constituents and fellow Senators.

So (rolling up sleeves) we’ve heard what Ted has to say.  What about those national Republican and Senate leaders for whose support he has asked?  What do they have to say about their colleague in peril? 

“This is a sad but serious day. Sen. Stevens was found guilty by a jury of his peers, and now must face the consequences of those actions. As a result of his conviction, Sen. Stevens will be held accountable so the public trust can be restored.” – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

OK.  Senate Minority Leader sounds pretty disappointed.  “Face the consequences”, “held accountable”…..Sounds like Mitch McConnell is thinking self-preservation and taking a giant step away from the convicted felon.  McConnell is running for re-election in a race that’s a little to close for comfort, and can ill-afford the Stevens albatross around his neck.

“This is a sad day for the United States Senate. Ted Stevens served his constituents for over 40 years and I am disappointed to see his career end in disgrace. Sen. Stevens had his day in court and the jury found he violated the public’s trust – as a result he is properly being held accountable. This is a reminder that no one is above the law.” – Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Well, it’s pretty obvious that the Republican Senate leadership has pretty much thrown Ted under the bus.  And it’s not surprising, really.  Once the suffix “convicted felon” appears after a politicians name, any continued affiliation with them is pretty much political suicide.  Nobody, but NObody in the Republican Party would be foolish enough to snuggle up to Ted Stevens at this point.  I mean it would be like holding a big sign that said “I Pal Around With a Convicted Felon!”   Right, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski?

“Given today’s verdict, it’s a sad day indeed for Sen. Stevens and his family as well as for Alaska. Ted Stevens is an honorable, hardworking Alaskan who has served our state well for as long as we have been a state….Ted has asked for Alaskans and his Senate colleagues to stand with him as he pursues his legal rights. He stood with Alaskans for 40 years, and I plan to continue to stand with him.” – Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

You guessed right.  Murkowski is NOT up for re-election this year.  But Rep. Don Young IS.

“I’m deeply disappointed. It surprises me. I don’t think he had a jury of his peers. That’s the way it goes. I’m sure there will be an appeal. If you watched the conduct of the court with the one juror leaving and going out and, of course, the actions of the prosecutors themselves, there definitely will be an appeal, and it will go for a long period of time.” – Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

Hit the brakes!  What’s this?  He didn’t have a jury of his peers?  What peers do you mean Rep. Young?  All the other members of Alaska’s infamous “Corrupt Bastards Club?”   Ohhh… that’s right, they are either in jail, testifying against Stevens, or are actually his offspring.  Guess that means he’ll have to settle for some other kind of jury…like the one selected by the attorneys on both sides.

What about that other Alaskan politician that’s been in the news lately?  What’s her name, again?

“This is a sad day for Alaska and for Sen. Stevens and his family. The verdict shines a light on the corrupting influence of the big oil service company that was allowed to control too much of our state. … As governor of the state of Alaska, I will carefully monitor this situation and take any appropriate action as needed. In the meantime, I ask the people of Alaska to join me in respecting the workings of our judicial system. I’m confident Sen. Stevens will do what’s right for the people of Alaska.” – Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska.

Interesting.  So it’s the corrupting influence of big oil, not the corrupt compliance of politicians.  Subtle distinction.  It wasn’t Ted’s fault…it was those darn kids he was hanging around with that got him into trouble.   Then she tosses some word salad, with meaningless filler croutons.  And then “Respecting the workings of our judicial system” sounds good…but is she talking about the verdict we just got, or Ted’s upcoming appeal?  And what will Senator Stevens do that is “right for the people of Alaska?”  Does that mean step down, or continue to run?  In a nutshell, Sarah Palin said absolutely nothing with any substance.  How very…..Sarah Palin.

But, after all this, what is the official comment from the Republican Party of the State of Alaska?  THE most important Alaskan Republican in the history of the state has just been indicted on seven felony counts.  He has been tried by a jury of his peers, in front of the nation.  He has been held up to the world as an example of the degradation, rampant greed, and incomprehensible hubris of the Republican Party.  Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator in history, once third in line to the Presidency,  has been castigated and rebuked by the national Republican Senate leaders.  He is the poster boy for how far, long, and hard the Republicans have fallen.  What say you, Alaskan Republicans?  How do you console and guide your stricken party members who are reeling from betrayal and humiliation.  Let’s face it…the last two years have been pretty tough on Alaska Republicans, and now the demi-God of the party has just poured salt in the wounds.   I’m sorry Republican Party…I had asked you a question.  You were saying?

“We need to continue to support Sen. Stevens. We need to vote for him because a vote for him is a vote for a conservative candidate, a Republican who best represents the interests and beliefs of Alaskans. … We don’t know what happens in the future. But if you don’t want Mark Begich, you vote for Ted Stevens.” – McHugh Pierre, spokesman for the Alaska Republican Party.

You heard it here, kids.  The Alaskan Republican Party has just reaffirmed their endorsement of, and told you to vote for A CONVICTED FELON!  You show ’em Alaska Republicans!  Hold your head high, walk in to the voting booth with the blessing of your political party, fill in that little oval, and vote with impunity for A CONVICTED FELON!  Drive home with a satisfied smile, kiss your spouse, and say, “What did you do today, Honey?  I voted for A CONVICTED FELON!”  Proudly call your friends and relatives out of state, and tell them how you, and all your buddies in the Republican party, puffed out your chests, and proudly hitched your wagon to the star of an 84-year old CONVICTED FELON!  Maybe you should call your local party headquarters and suggest a fundraiser…you could do t-shirts, and hats that say, “I VOTED FOR A CONVICTED FELON!” 

Then, put your feet up, and watch the national news, and watch a couple political talk shows, and wonder to yourself, “How did Alaska become a laughing stock?”

 

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Energy Emergency in Rural Alaska.

26 10 2008

The Alaska Federation of Natives on Saturday called on the state and federal governments to declare an energy emergency in rural Alaska, and to cap the price of heating oil and gasoline in villages across the state. 

Palin spokesman Bill McAllister said the governor will continue appointing Natives to state posts.

Some village residents pay twice as much as city dwellers for heating oil and gasoline, and rural delegates meeting for their annual convention in Anchorage voted to ask the government to pay the difference.

That should last until low-cost, alternative energy projects are up and running in rural Alaska, said Loretta Bullard, president of Kawerak Inc., a Native nonprofit operating in the Bering Strait region.

AFN delegates also demanded that Gov. Sarah Palin appoint more Natives to influential state posts and commissions, saying Natives have “suffered from inattention.”

“It was an extreme struggle to get an Alaska Native on the Board of Game,” Timothy Andrew, chairman of the Native village corporation in Marshall, told the crowd.

At her recorded announcement to the AFN convention on Thursday, Palin announced that she was creating a new sub-cabinet to deal with energy issues, and the related migration of rural dwellers into Alaska’s urban areas. Energy costs in rural areas can be as much as 40% of a family’s household budget, and many family’s are being forced to reluctantly relocate so they can afford to stay warm.   Heading up this new sub-cabinet will be Attorney General Talis Colberg.  And no, he is not Native.

Talis Colberg, you’ll remember is the Alaska Attorney General who was the subject of a petition submitted to Palin’s office last month, and a whopping giant protest rally – the biggest in state history.  More than 1200 “Alaskans for Truth”  signed a petition demanding the removal of Colberg from office for advising state employees to ignore legislative subpoenas.  What did the governor think of this loud and clear statement from her constituents?  Apparently not much, since Colberg just got this shiny new appointment.  I’m guessing he’s not fearing for his job.  I think Alaskans can confidently say we’ve been roundly ignored.

Back to Native issues.  Try to follow this very Palinesque thread of non-logic.  Natives say she doesn’t appoint Natives.  She says she will continue to appoint Natives.  And then she creates a sub-cabinet to deal with Native issues, headed up by a non-Native.  I have to believe that Alaskans are catching on to this.

So what will Palin do now?  Rural Alaskan families are facing a crisis this winter.  According to Senator Lisa Murkowski, fuel is being rationed, and prices are prohibitive.  Palin has been asked by her constituents to help.  So will she allow families in rural Alaska to go through a life-threatening winter without adequate heat?  Or will she be one of those dreaded socialists that she is constantly vilifying on the campaign trail? 

 

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A Tour of the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention – Surprise Troopergate Spottings!

23 10 2008
I went to meet a friend today at the AFN Convention in downtown Anchorage. AFN stands for Alaska Federation of Natives. Every year, Native Alaskans come from all over the state to meet in Anchorage. The event is cultural, social, political, and practical. Today was the opening day, and I was scheduled to meet my friend for lunch. I looked up the program online and discovered that our Governor was due to address the convention at 10:30, so I planned my trip accordingly.

The convention was held in the newly opened Dena’ina Convention Center, and it was the first sizeable event held there. The first actual event held there was the Sarah Palin Welcome Home rally which I attended undercover….but that was hardly sizeable.

The facility is quite impressive, and able to hold many thousands of people.

Beautiful hanging 2-story art featuring Alaskan critters.

Beautiful hanging 2-story art featuring Alaskan critters.

I slipped in a seat just in time to hear Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich deliver a nice address.  He had a big hand in getting the convention center built, and talked about the process of giving it an Alaskan Native name.  He also talked about his six years as Mayor, his past experiences hosting AFN Conventions in his city, “Alaska’s largest native village,” and his travels around the state.  He, of course, is campaigning heavily right now in his attempt to dethrone Ted Stevens, and take the Senate seat that Stevens has held….forever.  He finished up and was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.  Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10:  8

Then, the recorded announcement from Sarah Palin.  She was flanked by flags, and sat next to a big vase of white roses.  I can’t tell you exactly what she said, but you can probably imagine.  She went on about how Todd and her kids are part Native, and they “cherish their Native heritage” (a point disputed by several Native people I know), and talked about comin’ together, and seekin’ change, and energy costs, and her travels around the state, and her travel to Kuwait, and the Alaska National Guard.   Then there was a reminder of the $1200 energy rebate checks everyone got, and how they came out early this year. (Sounds awful “spread-the-wealth-around” to me…)  There was a strained reference to Native legend, trying to tie something in to a story about the Raven.  Then a folksy story about two frogs stranded in a pail of milk.  One gave up and died, the other kept kicking until the milk turned in to butter and then hopped out.  She learned this story from embattled Attorney General Talis Colberg, who is under pressure to resign becuase of his conduct in the Troopergate fiasco, when he told state employees they didn’t need to comply with legislative subpoenas.   I’m guessing this little fable is meant to let us know that no, he will not be stepping down any time soon…he’s just gonna be kickin’ away until unethical behavior turns in to butter.  As a matter of fact, Sarah told us, Talis Colberg himself will be heading up a sub-cabinet on rural affairs.

By the time she wrapped up her saccharine-sweet, over-rehearsed, cotton-candy slideshow, my teeth hurt.  After it was done, I saw one non-Native woman bouncing, and applauding at about 5 claps per second, and the rest of the vast hall was very very lukewarm.  The applause was “polite.”   Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10:  3.5

Then Lt. Governor Sean Parnell made a “surprise” appearance to present the first Shirley Dementieff Award to a Native woman who demonstrated exemplary public service.  Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10 for Sean Parnell:  2   Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10 for the winner of the award, Rep. Mary Nelson   :  9

Next up, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, appointed to the US Senate Seat by her Father, former Senator Frank Murkowski when he became Governor Frank Murkowski….the one who lost to Sarah Palin in the primary, garnering only 19% of the vote.   Alaskans then passed a law saying that the Governor can no longer appoint a vacant US Senate seat, and then proceeded to re-elect Lisa anyway.  Don’t ask me to explain that one.

That said, I will give credit where credit is due. Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the Indian Affairs Committee, knows her stuff, is intelligent, and actually seems to take her job pretty seriously.  There was an obligatory jab at Nancy Pelosi, but other than that, she was on good behavior.  She talked about the fact that milk is $10 a gallon in some areas of Alaska, that stove oil was already being rationed in some communities, that households in rural Alaska spend 40% of their budget on heating costs, that a woman had emailed her saying she was praying for a warm winter.  “Prayer is not, and should not be an energy strategy,” said Murkowski.  She talked about the fact that infant mortality for Native Alaskans is double that of non-Natives, and that 12% of Native deaths are in some way alcohol-related.  She talked about what she had actually been doing.  I sat for a moment marvelling at a woman holding high elected office in the state of Alaska who actually knows what she’s talking about.  Even though I disagree with Murkowski on a LOT of issues, and I have not and probably will not ever vote for her, I enjoyed the experience of not being embarrassed by a member of the Alaska congressional delegation. She was refreshingly un-mockable.  Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10: 7 with a belated and not particularly enthusiastic standing ovation, but a standing ovation nonetheless.

This is the point where I started to feel like a birdwatcher. I should have brought a pair of binoculars, a better camera, and a Troopergate Field Guide so I could have checked off all the different species I saw.

It all started with a casual glance around at the crowd.  Lo and behold, 20 feet in front of me is Attorney General Talis Colberg himself!  He’s talking with someone….who is that?….It’s Palin’s Communications Director Bill McAllister!  AAACK!  Where’s my camera…which pocket??….must document this tete-a-tete!  Well, by the time I got the camera out of my pocket, McAllister had fled the scene.  I snapped a horrible blurry picture.  Then another horrible blurry picture of Talis Colberg….must fix the setting on the camera….  And by the time I fixed the setting, no more Colberg.  I submit these two awful pieces of photographic evidence  so I can check them off in my field guide.  The one of McAllister is like that photo of the Loch Ness Monster.  You’ll just have to believe me.

Bill McAllister is fleeing the interview!

A fleeting glimpse of AG Talis Colberg.

A fleeting glimpse of AG Talis Colberg.

 But wait, there’s more!  Out in the hallway, who should I spy, but Senator Lyman Hoffman of the Legislative Council that voted to release the Troopergate report! *clap clap clap*

Senator Lyman Hoffman of the Legislative Council

Senator Lyman Hoffman of the Legislative Council, and Mike Tibbles, former Palin Chief of Staff and current campaign manager for Ted Stevens.

And finally in this amazing Who’s Who of Troopergate, the former Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, Walt Monegan!  Himself, part Alaska native, he was ready to implement some very important and comprehensive strategies to improve the lives of rural Alaskans, when Sarah Palin decided to give him the axe….you know the story.

Walt Monegan! *snappy salute*

Walt Monegan! *snappy salute*

On the way out, I made a quick pass through the downstairs room where some incredible Native Arts and Crafts were on sale.

   

Good thing I had no money.

On the way out the door, one last Alaskan politician had his chance to make an “impression.”  Ted Stevens had his name and website printed on berry buckets which were stacked by the door.  My companion had to tell me what they were.  Berries, of course, are an important subsistence food, and Ted wanted to be sure his name was toted around all over the state on a useful object.  Quite clever, actually.

Ted Stevens berry bucket.

So Ted Stevens had the last word, even as he sat on the other side of the continent, waiting for a verdict from the jury.  Or so I thought.  Turns out, the last word, in fact, went to Mark Begich.  He was standing outside on the sidewalk talking to people and handing out samples of a traditional Native treat which is known as “Eskimo ice cream”.  Someone asked what kind it was.  The answer?  “Bethel style without the seal oil.”  The original recipe consists of (I believe) snow, berries and seal oil.  Other versions I’ve seen are berries, sugar and Crisco, and now this one which tasted like Cool whip with cranberries and blueberries.

   

I asked Mark how he was holding up, and he said he was doing well.  I didn’t mention the trial, but everyone is thinking it.  I give him credit…he must have a stomach of iron.  If he can handle the last two months, I think the U.S. Senate is going to be a breeze.

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What is McCain Thinking? One Alaskan’s Perspective.

29 08 2008

Downtown Wasilla, Alaska

“Is this a joke?”  That seemed to be the question du jour when my phone started ringing off the hook at 6:45am here in Alaska.  I mean, we’re sort of excited that our humble state has gotten some kind of national ‘nod’….but seriously?  Sarah Palin for Vice President?  Yes, she’s a popular governor.  Her all time high approval rating hovered around 90% at one point.  But bear in mind that the 90% approval rating came from one of the most conservative, and reddest-of-the-red states out there.  And that approval rating came before a series of events that have lead many Alaskans to question the governor’s once pristine image.

There is no doubt in my mind that many Alaskans are feeling pretty excited about this.  But we live in our own little bubble up here, and most of the attention we get is because of The Bridge to Nowhere, polar bears, the indictment of Ted Stevens, and the ongoing investigation and conviction of the string of legislators and oil executives who literally called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club”.

So seeing our governor out there in the national spotlight accepting the nomination for Vice Presidential candidate is just downright surreal.  Just months ago, when rumors surfaced that she was on the long version of the short list, she was questioned if she’d be interested in the position.  She said she couldn’t answer,

“until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day. I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we’re trying to accomplish up here….”

There is no doubt that Palin has fierce territorial loyalties.  When elected governor there was much concern because she came right out and said she would favor her own home town of Wasilla (where she was mayor) and its surrounding environs collectively known as “the Valley” while leading the state.  And it’s obvious from her statement that Alaska was on her mind when accepting the VP nod (see my emphasis above).

So what is it that we’re “trying to accomplish up here”?

  • Palin is currently in the middle of a controversial gas pipeline project in Alaska.  She’s favored the ‘Trans Canada’ proposal that will run the pipeline through Canada, in effect shipping US jobs over the border.  Many Alaskans, including former governors, have favored the “All Alaska Route”.
  • She is also suing the federal government over listing the polar bears as a threatened species.  The science was even compelling enough to convince the Secretary of the Interior that the bears needed to be listed.  But acknowledgement of this issue, and the potential disruption to development on Alaska’s oil-rich north slope spurred Palin to attempt to stop the listing.
  • Does she want to open ANWR?  Yes.  Every politician in Alaska wants to open ANWR.  It’s basically a requirement if you ever hope to get elected for anything.  Even Mark Begich, the progressive Democrat running against the indicted Senator and Alaskan institution Ted Stevens, is pro-drilling.  That’s the sea we swim in up here.  There are a few anti-drilling folks, but you have to look hard to find them, and work hard to have them admit it.

Will all this wash with voters in the ‘Lower 48’?  Time will tell.

18 Million Cracks in the Glass Ceiling

It was obvious anyway, but became beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-two-by-four obvious when Palin referenced the ‘glass ceiling’ line, that this choice is a blatant pander to women.  I would like to believe that women will actually feel insulted by this.  Yes, it would have been historic if Hillary had gotten the nomination.  It was historic that she made it as far as she did.  Yes, it would be great to have a woman in the oval office, or in the VP slot if they are the right woman…a woman who got there with her own drive, grit, determination, intelligence, skill and merits.  When you’re hand-picked by a man to win votes simply because you are a woman, that doesn’t count, and it doesn’t break any kind of ceiling.  Would we have had a Stan Palin as our VP pick?  No.  So choosing a woman because you think her gender will get votes is insulting.

Governor “Squeakyclean”….or not.

Another focus of Palin’s introduction today was her reform image.  Listen to John McCain and you’ll hear about a maverick reformer who took on big oil, took on corrupt Alaska politicians, and whose ethics are unquestioned.

Alaskans really want to like Sarah Palin.  In a state where corruption is the rule, and the same faces keep recycling over and over and over again like a bad dream, a new face, with a promise of reform seemed like a breath of fresh air.  Palin defeated incumbent governor Frank Murkowski (father of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski who he appointed to his own Senate seat when he was elected governor) because he was such an obnoxious, bloviating, downright BAD politician.  This staunchly republican state voted with relief, not having to cross over and vote Democratic, but still able to get Murkowski the hell out of office.  In the general election Palin swept into office running against a former Democratic governor, Tony Knowles, who was capable but came with baggage.  And he represented to Alaskans more of the same, tired old-style politics, and special interests that we have come to loathe.

So, if McCain had made his selection six months ago, the squeaky-clean governor meme would have made a little more sense.  But, Sarah Palin is currently under an ethics investigation by the Alaska state legislature.  The details of this investigation read like a trashy novel, and I suspect that the players will soon have new found celebrity on the national stage.  I’ll try to explain for all you non-Alaskans who suddenly have good reason to want to know more about Sarah Palin.  For those of you not interested in trashy novels, feel free to skip ahead.  Here it is…what we in Alaska call “TrooperGate”.

Sarah Palin’s sister Molly married a guy named Mike Wooten who is an Alaska State Trooper.  Mike and Molly had a rocky marriage.  When the marriage broke up, there was a bitter custody fight that is still ongoing.  During the custody investigation, all sorts of things were brought up about Wooten including the fact that he had illegally shot a moose (yes folks this is Alaska), driven drunk, and used a taser (on the test setting, he reminds us) on his 11-year old stepson, who supposedly had asked to see what it felt like.  While Wooten has turned out to be a less than stellar figure, the fact that Palin’s father accompanied him on the infamous moose hunt, and that many of the dozens of charges brought up by the Palin family happened long before they were ever reported smacked of desperate custody fight.  Wooten’s story is that he was basically stalked by the family.

After all this, Wooten was investigated and disciplined on two counts and allowed to kept his position with the troopers.  Enter Walt Monegan, Palin’s appointed new chief of the Department of Public Safety and head of the troopers.  Monegan was beloved by the troopers, did a bang-up job with minimal funding and suddenly got axed.  Palin was out of town and Monegan got “offered another job” (aka fired) with no explanation to Alaskans.  Pressure was put on the governor to give details, because rumors started to swirl around the fact that the highly respected Monegan was fired because he refused to fire the aforementioned Mike Wooten.  Palin vehemently denied ever talking to Monegan or pressuring Monegan in any way to fire Wooten, or that anyone on her staff did.  Over the weeks it has come out that not only was pressure applied, there were literally dozens of conversations in which pressure was applied to fire him.  Monegan has testified to this fact, spurring an ongoing investigation by the Alaska State Legislature.  But, before this investigation got underway, Palin sent the Alaska State Attorney General out to do some investigative work of his own, so she could find out in advance what the real investigation was going to find.  (No, I’m not making this up).  The AG interviewed several people, unbeknownst to the actual appointed investigator or the Legislature! Palin’s investigation of herself uncovered a recorded phone call retained by the Alaska State Troopers from Frank Bailey, a Palin underling, putting pressure on a trooper about the Wooten non-firing.  Todd Palin (governor’s husband) even talked to Monegan himself in Palin’s office while she was away.  Bailey is now on paid administrative leave.

As if this weren’t enough, Monegan’s appointed replacement Chuck Kopp, turns out to have been the center of his own little scandal.  He received a letter of reprimand and was reassigned after sexual harassment allegations by a former coworker who didn’t like all the unwanted kissing and hugging in the office.  Was he vetted?  Obviously not.  When he was questioned about all this, his comment was that no one had asked him and he thought they all knew.  Kopp, defiant, still claimed to have done nothing wrong and said to the press that there was no way he was stepping down from his new position.  Twenty four hours later, he stepped down.  Later it was uncovered that he received a $10,000 severance package for his two weeks on the job from Palin.  Monegan got nothing.

After extensive news coverage about all this nasty behind-the-scenes scandal, which is definitely NOT squeaky clean, Palin’s approval ratings fell to 67%, still high, but a far cry from the 90% number that’s being thrown around so glibly by the Republicans today.  Alaskans are quickly becoming disillusioned once again.

“Executive Experience”

Before her meteoric rise to political success as governor, just two short years ago Sarah Palin was the mayor of Wasilla.  I had a good chuckle at MSN.com’s claim that she had been the mayor of “Wasilla City”.  It is not a city.  Just Wasilla.  Wasilla is the heart of the Alaska “Bible belt” and Sarah was raised amongst the tribe that believes creationism should be taught in our public schools, homosexuality is a sin, and life begins at conception.  She’s a gun-toting, hang ’em high conservative.  Remember…this is where her approval ratings come from.  There is no doubt that McCain again is making a strategic choice to appeal to a particular demographic – fundamentalist right-wing gun-owning Christians.  And Republican bloggers are already gushing about how she has ‘more executive experience’ than Obama does!  Above is a picture of lovely downtown Wasilla, for those of you unfamiliar with the area.  Behind the Mug-Shot Saloon (the first bar I visited when I moved to Alaska long ago) is a little strip mall.  There are street signs in Wasilla with bullet holes in them.  Wasilla has a population of about 5500 people, and 1979 occupied housing units.  This is where your potential Vice President was two short years ago.  Can you imagine her negotiating a nuclear non-proliferation treaty?  Discussing foreign policy?  Understanding non-Alaskan issues?  Frankly, I don’t even know if she’s ever been out of the country.  She may ‘get’ Alaska, but there are only a half a million people here.  Don’t get me wrong….I love Alaska with all my heart.  I’m just saying.

I, and all Alaskans will be interested to see how this whole process unfolds.  This is definitely a gamble for McCain, and in my humble opinion, a gift to Obama and to Joe Biden who just got thrown a big hunk of red meat for the vice presidential debate.

This is the wedge-issue, desperate ‘Hail Sarah’ pass of the McCain campaign.

Now I’m off to get some Jiffy Pop.





The Stevens Indictment Welcomes – Dick Cheney?

23 08 2008

We knew that there would be jewels aplenty in those 67,000 pieces of paper, and hundreds of taped phone calls and videos that make up the body of evidence to be used against Ted Stevens in his upcoming trial.  Here’s the latest.

There’s a new player in our cast of unseemly characters…none other than Dick Cheney.  Apparently a two year old letter from Cheney to the Alaska Legislature has surfaced from the pile o’ steaming evidence.  The letter urged the Legislature to speed things up and get the gas pipeline project settled.  Remember that?  When Frank Murkowski was foaming at the mouth like a rabid animal telling us we had to do it NOW NOW NOW or the WORLD WILL END I TELL YOU!!!

According to a Justice motion, Stevens told Allen, “I’m gonna try to see if I can get some bigwigs from back here and say, ‘Look … you gotta get this done’.” Two days later, Cheney wrote a letter to the Alaska Legislature urging members to “promptly enact” a bill to build the pipeline. The letter was considered unusual because the White House rarely contacts state lawmakers about pending legislative matters. It also angered state Democrats, who accused Cheney of pushing oil-company interests. The former executive director of Cheney’s energy task force had gone to work as a lobbyist for British Petroleum, one of three firms slated to build the pipeline.

Stevens confirmed to NEWSWEEK last week that he asked Cheney to write the letter. “We wanted the federal government to tell the state to act quickly on it,” he said. (A spokesman for Alaska’s other senator, Lisa Murkowski, said her office also had contacts with Cheney’s office.) A Cheney spokeswoman said his office does not comment on pending legal matters.

Interesting.  So our web has added two new strands, and names have been spoken – Dick Cheney and Lisa Murkowski.  Apparently the prosecution is not all that eager to bring up the Cheney connection, as the letter has strangely not been cited by the Justice Department.  Following this trail to the end might land the executive branch somewhere they don’t want to be, like under a magnifying glass.

But, you never know.  Dick Cheney could end up on the witness stand.  Maybe the reason they’re avoiding this is to keep him from making the Bible spontaneously combust when he’s sworn in… That could be really embarrassing.