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.

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Palin’s Self-Investigation Bears Fruit!

13 08 2008

The governor lost no time today.  Mere hours after announcing that she had launched her own preemptive investigation of her own firing of Department of Public Safety Chief Walt Monegan, she also announced that she has discovered something!  Eureka!

It seems that despite the fact that Palin repeatedly claimed no one on her staff ever ever pressured anyone to fire her ex-brother-in-law Trooper Mike Wooten…er….they did.  Dozens of times.  As a matter of fact, (oh gosh this is SO embarrassing) one of the phone calls was tape recorded by the the DPS!  BUT, the governor tells us with a straight face, that she knew absolutely nothing at all about it.  Nothing.  Really.  Although she did know something about some of the other ones, which she forgot she did before, but now she remembers.  But not THIS one that was recorded.

The phone call “Pressurizer”, long term Palin staffer Frank Bailey, has even come out with a statement that says he acted alone.   He decided to pressurize all by himself.  He’s a lone wolf.  No direction from the governor.  None. Completely spontaneous.  AND, he “can’t stress it enough.”  Wow.  So he reeeeally must be telling the truth.

I don’t know whether Palin really thinks we are all that stupid, or whether her options are just running out.  I suppose the administration is thinking that it looks better to turn over the damning evidence themselves.  That sort of looks honest, right?   

ADN’s Kyle Hopkins’ notes from today’s press conference: (emphasis is mine)

— Palin and Attorney General Talis Colberg say there were at least two dozen phone calls from members of Palin’s staff asking about Wooten.

Colberg said he had a conversation with Monegan about Wooten.

— One of the calls came from Palin’s husband, Todd Palin.

Many came from Palin’s former Chief of Staff, Mike Tibbles.

— Palin says she didn’t know about Bailey’s phone calls, but did know about at least some of the other calls.

— Just after the press conference, Palin’s team was to meet with the independent investigator hired by the Legislature to look into Monegan’s firing.

— Palin said Monegan’s firing wasn’t about Wooten, who kept his job even as members of the governor’s staff kept asking about him. She says Monegan wasn’t “a team player” when it came to the budget, asked for more money while failing to fill vacant job positions, and wasn’t doing a good enough job combating alcohol issues such as rural bootlegging.

— Monegan turned down the governor’s offer to head up the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board.

— Monegan’s replacement, Chuck Kopp, was paid a “severance package” of $10,000, after quickly resigning.

— Palin said no decision has been made yet about what happens to Bailey.


So, we’ve gone from firm statements that nobody from the administration ever talked to Monegan about Wooten, to dozens of calls?  It’s amazing how recording devices and investigations can trigger the memory.

And she fired Walt Monegan in part because of his inadequacy in combatting alcohol issues, and then in the same breath offered him the head position of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board?

And the other reason is because he wasn’t filling empty trooper positions, and also because he had the nerve to ask for money to do it?

Have we entered the Bush/Cheney Whitehouse at some point?  Black is white, and white is black.   2+2=5.  And it’s all lies, I tell you, LIES!





Palin Investigates Self in Innovative Winning Strategy.

13 08 2008

It’s good to start the day with a chuckle…and there are chuckles aplenty in the latest hilarious hijinks of our wacky governor Sarah Palin. We discovered last month that the Legislature would be conducting an investigation of the controversial firing of DPS chief Walt Monegan. That little debacle had everything – drama, revenge, infidelity, abuse of power, intimidation, drunk driving, child custody issues….and on and on. It was nice, frankly, to have a little respite from the slime; a time of cleansing; a mental sorbet. Now it’s time for the next course.

This one, although equally serious, has the feel of lighthearted satire. Here’s the deal:

After the Monegan debacle, Palin said she welcomed an investigation, had nothing to hide and was completely innocent. A few days later, backpedaling, said there really didn’t need to be an investigation and that she was willing to answer all questions she was asked. But the Legislature proceeded.

Retired state prosecutor Steven Branchflower was hired by the Legislature to investigate Palin and her administration regarding the Monegan firing. Here’s where we enter the land of the absurd.

Palin (aka ‘the accused’) decided that she didn’t want to wait for the investigation to begin. She’d rather know ahead of time what would be uncovered by the Legislature’s investigation. That would make things much nicer for her…. you know, eliminating the element of surprise, and having a heads up. What to do… (lightbulb goes off)

The solution? She directed the Alaska State Attorney General, Talis Colberg to investigate FIRST, and include interviews with Department of Public Safety employees. The accused’s ‘investigation of self’ apparently began in July, and interviews started on August 4th. The AG refused to say who was interviewed or how many interviews were conducted. Meanwhile, Branchflower has not even started the Legislature’s official investigation yet.

Go ahead, chuckle. I did.

Predictable reactions?

Jay Ramras (chair of the House Judiciary Committee:

“I think it is harmful to the credibility of the administration, harmful to the process and harmful to all the parties involved. It’s just the worst possible thing to be doing.”

John Cyr, executive director of the troopers union:

“It’s an abuse of her office” for Palin to involve the attorney general.

Legislators and Alaska citizens who have an ounce of common sense:

“Ummm. Witness intimidation? Witness tampering? Misuse of the Attorney General? Misuse of state resources? Are you kidding me???”

Governor’s spokeswoman Sharon Leighow:

No comment. Talk to the Attorney General.

The Attorney General Tallis Colberg:

“We’re commited to trying to cooperate as best we can…”

I just love that. This has become a catch phrase in the Palin administration…”committed to try”. Now that’s REAL commitment.

The governor’s justification for launching this preemptive investigation? Representative Hollis French told the Wall Street Journal that a worse-case scenario might be impeachment. Yeah….and? Apparently even acknowledging that this WAS the worst-case scenario had the administration in a tizzy. Palin and her hench-people figured that this was the winning strategy.

Time, once again, to sit back and watch the fallout.





The Great Alaska Kopp-Out.

25 07 2008

Word is out.  Chuck Kopp, the new Commissioner of Public Safety is now the new ex-Commissioner of Public Safety.  That was quick.

Yesterday, despite the outing of past allegations of sexual harassment, Kopp said he had absolutely no intention of stepping down,  and today a resignation?  Methinks there may have been more skeletons knocking on that closet door, or the Governor sharpened up the axe and handed him his head wrapped in a pink slip, with the opportunity to “resign”. 

The excuse reason given at the joint press conference today?  Play along.

A)  “This is too much of a distraction from more important things we need to be focusing on.” 

OR

B)  “This has been too hard on my family.”

The answer is both, but with a twist.

“The recent media firestorm has been detrimental to the Department of Public Safety mission, the citizens of Alaska and my family,” Kopp said. “While I have been portrayed in a negative light, my personal worth is now in the person of Jesus Christ.”

Ahh.  We’ve got a big helping of “Blame the Media” and a dash of Jesus thrown in for good measure.  Nice try.

The Governor’s thoughts?

“We’re going to move forward now,” Palin said. “This has been brutal on a good family.”   “This has been a tumultuous week in the Department of Public Safety, and as your governor, I apologize.”

Move forward?  I’m sure that’s Palin’s firm hope, but there are still investigations to come about why Monegan got fired in the first place.  This little diversion was not the main issue.  This was just the lesson on fully vetting potential commissioners before you hire them.   But, Sarah does win a style point for the apology.  More than I can say for Kopp.

Now, the question is…who’s next?  Hey, I hear Walt Monegan is looking for a job…





Sarah-Gate Goes National.

22 07 2008

Finally!  Sarah Palin’s scandal gets picked up by the National Blogosphere. 

Here’s the link to Daily Kos,  and TPMMuckraker links to the Daily News article about the investigation.

In addition to my previous commentary, also enjoy these Alaskan offerings from Progressive Alaska, and Immoral Minority,  and Celtic Diva’s great coverage of the Chuck Kopp subplot to this whole sordid affair.

Just for amusement, here’s a clip from a FOX News article that came out on July 11, 2008.

JUNEAU, Alaska —  The wipeout in the 2006 election left Republicans in such a state of dejection that they’ve overlooked the one shining victory in which a Republican star was born.

The triumph came in Alaska where Sarah Palin, a politician of eye-popping integrity, was elected governor. She is now the most popular governor in America, with an approval rating in the 90s, and probably the most popular public official in any state.

Her rise is a great (and rare) story of how adherence to principle–especially to transparency and accountability in government–can produce political success.

Ah, what a difference a week makes.





Palin’s VP Prospects Circling the Drain

21 07 2008

After much speculation about what Sarah Palin actually meant when she said the reason she fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was to take the department “in a new direction”, the governor has finally given us an explanation. Unfortunately, the explanation is feeble at best.  At worst, disingenuous.

Apparently the ‘new direction’ involves increasing recruitment and dealing with alcohol and substance abuse problems in the bush. ……ohh kay….. how is this different? And how was Walt Monegan not doing this? Palin’s “new direction” is basically a carbon copy of material released by Walt Monegan and Colonel Audie Holloway at the beginning of the year.  In other words, the new direction is the old direction.

So, what does this mean?  Several things, potentially.

  1. The ‘new direction’ is a lame attempt to explain why Monegan got fired, when, in fact, his firing had nothing to do with direction, and everything to do with not firing Palin’s ex-brother-in-law and Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, despite being pressured to do so.
  2. The governor thinks we are not paying attention.
  3. The governor thinks we are not very bright.

So, what does the Legislature think of all this? Buckle your seatbelts Alaska, and prepare for…..another investigation.

Senate President Lyda Green (fellow Wasilla Republican and Palin arch-nemesis), and Senate Judiciary Chairman Hollis French  have said that an investigation is likely, and Senator Johnny Ellis stated this weekend, “There will be an inquiry. Any use of public position for personal use or gain is wrong. We will get to the bottom of it.”  Same story in the House.  And the House and Senate are talking about holding hearings regarding the Monegan firing.  It’s only a matter of time before the can is opened and the worms come out.

This investigation will have a slightly different flavor than the others to date. So far we’ve had investigations (with accompanying indictments and convictions) of state legislators, and of oil service execs. We’ve got investigations of our congressional delegation, and likely an ex-governor.  But now we’re going to have an investigation of not only a sitting governor, but a potential Vice Presidential candidate. Until now, Palin has been the darling of the right, and on McCain’s short list for VP running mate.   She’s cute, she’s tough, she wears red suits, she’s a social conservative, she’s pro-life, she’s a woman, she’s a hockey mom with 5 kids, and most of all she’s squeaky squeaky clean!  …  Uh oh.

Truth is, her reputation for sweeping the state clean of corruption, and restoring ethics and transparency to government was the foundation on which all those other things rested. Take that away, and  it all falls like a house of cards.  McCain isn’t considering her as a running-mate to secure Alaska’s three electoral votes, that’s for sure.  He wants her image. And now, that image is sullied, which means right about now her chances for the VP nod are circling the drain.  In this election, no one can afford to be linked to another corrupt Republican….least of all a corrupt Republican.

UPDATE:  The Anchorage Daily news has linked to an interview with Walt Monegan that aired today on KUDO 1080-AM.  More discussion on KUDO was promised for tomorrow.

UPDATE #2 8/29/08:

Let me be the first to say I was wrong.  The choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s VP running mate proves how foolish I was for imagining that the Republican’s weren’t that stupid!





Palin’s Power Trip – The Plot Thickens

19 07 2008

Break out the hip waders.  The mud storm over the Governor’s mysterious termination of Walt Monegan continues, with no signs of letting up.  The more we learn, the smarmier it gets.

Recall yesterday, when Governor Sarah Palin released a statement that included the following:

To allege that I, or any member of my family, requested, received or released confidential personnel information on an Alaska State Trooper, or directed disciplinary action be taken against any employee of the Department of Public Safety, is, quite simply, outrageous.

Well, newly ex-commissioner Walt Monegan has spilled the beans, stating “They can’t fire me twice.”  According to the Anchorage Daily News, Monegan says he was pressured to fire Trooper Mike Wooten, a cop of questionable character, and ex-husband of Palin’s sister Molly.  Ugly divorces are nasty, but ugly child custody battles are nastier.  Ask anyone who’s had the misfortune of being involved in one, or knowing someone who has.  We Alaskans are now privy to more information than we ever needed or wanted to know about Mike & Molly and the divorce from Hell.  It’s all out there in black & white – Drunk driving, foul language, illegal moose hunting, extramarital affair, neighbors peeking in windows, private investigators, death threats, snowmachining on sick days, verbal abuse, and yes, dry tasering an 11-year old so he could see what it felt like. 

But the real issue at hand is:  Did Palin fire Walt Monegan because he refused to can Trooper Wooten, and settle an old personal Palin family score?

She says no.  He says maybe.  Discuss.

According to Walt Monegan, in addition to discussions with Palin herself, he was pressured by Palin’s former chief-of-staff (and current campaign manager for Sen. Ted Stevens) Mike Tibbles, Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer, and director of boards and commissions Frank Bailey.  And what did these three have to say?  The classic trifecta:  No comment.  It never happened.  I don’t recall.

‘First Dude’ Todd Palin, who admitted having a conversation about Wooten with Monegan right after he was hired said, “I know I’ve never told him to fire Wooten.”  So….does Todd Palin actually have the power to ‘tell’ or ‘not tell’ the Commissioner of Public Safety to do ANYthing?  Disturbing also is the fact that this meeting with Monegan took place in the Governor’s office.  So, although it wasn’t “telling”, it sure sounds like “pressuring”, especially in light of the fact that calls, complaints and coversations had been occuring from the point of his hire until a month or two before his unexplained termination.

Let’s go back and parse the Governor’s statement.

To allege that I, or any member of my family, requested, received or released confidential personnel information on an Alaska State Trooper, or directed disciplinary action be taken against any employee of the Department of Public Safety, is, quite simply, outrageous.

This gets back to the telling vs. pressuring point.  No one may have “directed” that Wooten be fired, but there’s a lot of grey area, and plenty of room for inappropriate behavior on the part of the Governor, her husband, and her staff.  They march on a slippery slope.

And if, as reported, material from Wooten’s confidential Administrative Investigation file is now in the hands of Palin’s sister Molly McCann and her attorney, wouldn’t that mean, contrary to the Governor’s statement, that a member of her family DID receive confidential personnel information on an Alaska State Trooper?  So far, no one can imagine how that can possibly have happened (blink blink).  We wait for the next leak.

Speaking of parsing words… Monegan’s replacement, Chuck Kopp, answering questions about a sexual harrassment charge in his past says (my emphasis),  “There is absolutely nothing in my record that I’m ashamed of.”   Stay tuned.