Stapleton, This Town Ain’t Big Enough…

12 10 2008

A lonely tumbleweed blows down 4th Avenue in a little frontier town known as Anchorage.  The sun is cold, and yeller, and low in the sky.  A pair of bat-wing doors swings open.  A man in a white hat.   It’s the Marshall.  He’s cool and he’s tough, and he don’t take no guff from nobody.  The black hat waits outside, and in the street a crowd gathers.  They know what’s coming, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.  The Marshall has his prey in sight, and this town ain’t big enough for the both of them.  His eyes squint as he approaches the varmit.  There is no sound but the clink clink clink of spurs. Their eyes lock, as the crowd presses in. There’s fixin’ to be a fight.

Marshall (Representative) Les Gara doesn’t like how varmit (Palin mouthpiece) Meg Stapleton has been talking about some of the respected townsfolk, like (former Commissioner of Public Safety) Walt Monegan, (Rep.) Hollis French, (Independent Investigator) Steve Branchflower, and (Rep.) Bill Weilechowski. No, he doesn’t like it at all. *squint*

The dust blows…. He confronts Stapleton head on. He wants one thing, and one thing only. *spits tobacco* An apology…

Intermission. Get popcorn.

Stapleton, you no account sidewinder…you’ve crossed the good people of this town for the last time.  You got ’til sundown to get out.





Troopergate’s Strange Bedfellows.

22 09 2008

Alaska politics is making strange bedfellows these days. Last week Wasilla conservative Republican, and Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green spoke with KUDO, the progressive talk radio station. Green was one of Palin’s mentors at the beginning of her career. But years went by, and the two began to disagree. There were power-plays, and barbs thrown. Palin appeared on a conservative radio program in which the DJ said he was going to say what Palin couldn’t about Green. “She’s a B**ch!” Response from Palin? Giggling. “She’s a cancer!” More giggling. And yes, Lyda Green is a cancer survivor. Eventually, Green decided that she no longer could work for the Legislature while Palin was governor. Her constituents were rabidly pro-Palin and the writing was on the wall. So Green announced she would not be running for re-election in November. This was big news when it happened, back in the day when we weren’t in the national spotlight.

So Lyda Green, who was intensely disliked by the Democratic Party (although they never called her names on the air) made an I-have-nothing-to-lose appearance on KUDO. She came right out and said that the investigation should and would proceed, and that nothing had changed. We were seeking the truth when it all started, and we still are. What followed were calls of praise and admiration from the very ‘blue’ listening audience…. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone.

Now from the progressive community who normally wants to see his head on a pike,there’s another uber-conservative pundit who is engendering praise – Dan Fagan. Dan Fagan is a notorious right wing radio talking head, turned columnist in the Anchorage Daily News. The ADN is frequently criticized by the vast right-wing community in Anchorage as being a “socialist rag”. So they hired Dan Fagan, and now they can say “Well, what about Dan Fagan??” and cross their arms. Fagan frequently talks in matter-of-fact terms about “liberal bias” in the media, and now he has a “liberal media” nest in which to comfortably perch, and continue to do just that. And anyone unfortunate enough to walk under the nest will likely have a ‘deposit’ land on their head.

But there is one thing that Dan Fagan is not at the moment, and that is a Palin fan. If you’ll recall the emails from Sarah Palin’s hacked Yahoo! account that made it on the web, there was an exchange between Palin and her Lt. Governor Sean Parnell, bemoaning Fagan’s treatment of Parnell (a congressional candidate at the time) during his appearance as a guest on Fagan’s radio show. In Palin’s email response, she said,

“His fighting you reveals some evil stuff going on with him. Does he want someone OPPOSED to the life issue in Congress?”

“Evil?” Zounds! Fagan’s been called a lot of names, but I don’t think he’s ever been called ‘evil’. And, do we infer that Palin thinks that everyone out there who believes in reproductive choice has “evil stuff going on” with them?

This brings us to today. Fagan has come out with an interesting opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

The real damage to Palin from Troopergate comes with an injury claim involving trooper Wooten when he hurt his back while in the line of duty.

Independent investigator Steve Branchflower testified recently he believes someone in the governor’s office tried to block Wooten’s workers’ compensation injury benefits.

Harbor Adjustment Services, the company hired by the state to process, evaluate and decide on workers’ benefit claims, had great financial incentive in bowing to pressure from the governor to deny Wooten’s injury claim.

Obviously, the state is Harbor Adjustment Services’ largest client. The owner of the company denies the governor’s office pressured her to deny Wooten’s benefits. Why wouldn’t she? Ratting out the governor could cost her the lucrative state contract.

But Branchflower says an employee with Harbor Adjustment Services contradicts the owner and has testified the governor’s office did apply pressure to deny Wooten his benefits.

Branchflower says the unnamed employee testified, “I don’t, you know, care if it’s the president who wants the claim denied. I’m not going to deny it unless I have the medical evidence to do that,”

We know the governor’s office was very interested in Wooten. Dianne Kiesel, a state employee with the Department of Administration, tells me former Palin chief of staff Mike Tibbles instructed her to walk Wooten’s personnel file over to the governor’s office.

And there is the governor’s aide, Frank Bailey, caught on tape admitting he has information that came from Wooten’s workers’ comp file.

The very file that includes pictures, taken by none other than Todd Palin, of Wooten riding a snowmachine trying to prove the trooper was not injured.

Here’s why this is all so damaging to the governor. It’s one thing to try to get a trooper fired because you believe he is a danger to the public. But using your considerable power as governor to block the benefits of a former family member you have a long-running dispute with moves this scandal into a new realm.

It becomes about one thing and one thing only, revenge. Not public good, but settling a score.

Fagan is correct in that this angle on Troopergate hasn’t been explored deeply. We get hung up on tasers, and ex-wives, and affairs, and ‘rogue cops’, but the thing that may stick, is Palin’s tampering with the worker’s compensation claim. With Al Capone, it was tax evasion…you just never know.

It was only a week or so ago that the unnamed employee from Harbor Adjustment Services came out with her information to investigator Stephen Branchflower’s “tip line”. And it has also only recently been revealed that part of the file includes photos of Wooten on a snowmachine, taken by Todd Palin while he was out collecting evidence to use against Wooten. Yes, at one point our “First Dude” Todd Palin was following Mike Wooten around to ‘get something’ on him.

John Cyr, the head of the PSEA (the Troopers’ union), who was interviewed extensively on Anchorage’s KUDO radio says that if those 1100 emails the Palin administration is withholding (claiming executive privilege) were released, they would show that Palin had used her office to keep tabs on Wooten. Cyr, who filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents was told it would cost $88,000 to fulfill his request. “That seems a little steep,” said Cyr, “and suspicious.”

19 days and counting until special investigator Stephen Branchflower’s report on his findings in this investigation.





Karl Rove Comes to Alaska…

12 09 2008

Les Gara and his entourage on Primary Night at Election Central in Anchorage.

Please give a big Mudflats welcome to our guest poster for the evening, Les Gara.  Les is a Democratic State Representative from Anchorage.  He’s also a former Assistant Attorney General (Exxon Valdez Litigation Section), and has been in office since 2003.  

 

I took that photo of Les at the Primary Night festivities at the Egan Convention Center in downtown Anchorage.  That’s him being interviewed for a local news cast.  He had the best signs, I thought.  You can only do so much with red, white, and blue.

 

Here’s Rep. Gara’s  take on McCain’s spin and interference with the bi-partisan “Troopergate” Investigation. 

 

Politicians are good at spin.  The McCain camp has brought a whole new level of it to our small state – in what looks like an effort to show they can play the same Karl Rove-like political games that have haunted this country for the last 8 years.  I like Governor Palin on a personal level.  But I don’t like what the McCain campaign is doing to our state.  I don’t like deception.  And I don’t like politics as usual.

 

Alaskans are starting to see evidence of a Karl Rove-like effort to stonewall what started as a non-controversial, bi-partisan “Troopergate” investigation.  A little deception here.  A few personal attacks there.  And the kind of spin you see at an amusement park tilt-a-whirl station.  

 

This investigation was started by a Republican-dominated Alaska Legislature to look into Governor Palin’s conduct in seeking the termination of a State Trooper, once married to the Governor’s sister, Trooper Michael Wooten.  The McCain camp wants to stop it by saying it’s a “democratic” investigation.  Apart from facts, and the reputations the McCain folks don’t mind destroying, there’s not a lot standing in the way of this strategy.

 

Until August 29 “Troopergate” was a small state investigation Governor Palin, and every Republican and Democrat in a Republican-led Legislature had agreed was appropriate.  But things changed the day Governor Palin joined the McCain ticket.  His handlers went ballistic that the Governor agreed to an investigation they now needed to stop.

 

I know Senator McCain is now running on a political platform of “change.”  Leave aside how he’ll fight to change what he’s voted to do to this country for the last 8 years.  If you ask me, the only thing he’s changed so far is Governor Palin’s position – her decision to cooperate with this once-small investigation. 

 

This is one of those cases where there’s a clear truth.  It’s a clear truth – about a bi-partisan investigation – that I hope McCain’s operatives will ultimately fail at spinning into a “partisan” plot against his running mate.

 

To get their way, and prevent sworn testimony from leaking out on what I suspect was probably a minor breach by Governor Palin, McCain’s operatives have come to Alaska to add invective in a state where people generally get along.  They’ve chosen to vilify: 1) one of the state’s most respected public officials, Senator Hollis French; 2) the state’s most respected law enforcement official, Walt Monegan; and 3) a highly respected former DA and Victims Rights advocate a legislative committee voted 12 – 0 to hire to conduct the investigation, Steve Branchflower. 

 

It’s the ghost of Karl Rove.  Say something untrue enough times – like that Al Qaida is training with Saddam Hussein’s help – and people will believe it.  Not this time.  I’m not sure if I mentioned a few important facts.

 

Did I mention that no one ever attacked the Troopergate investigation by Alaska’s Legislature – started long before Governor Palin was placed on McCain’s ticket – until August 29?  That was the day Governor Palin joined the McCain bid for the White House. 

 

Did I mention that before the McCain camp got involved, the Governor stated of the Legislative investigation:  “That being the route they choose, so be it.  I’m happy to comply, to cooperate.” (KTUU.com, July 24, 2008).  She repeatedly stated she’d comply, and that it was the right thing to do.

 

Did I mention the personal attacks against our local public officials only started after Sen. McCain sent his flacks up to our small state on August 29?  They came with a mission to make America believe a Republican-initiated investigation, started with a unanimous committee vote of 8 Republicans and 4 Democrats, was a “partisan” plot.  That’s only a tough sell if people know the facts.

 

Did I mention they now claim the Legislature cannot legally proceed with an investigation into government misconduct (I thought Republicans didn’t like attorneys who made frivolous arguments), and that they are threatening to to go to court to stop it?   The Governor’s attorneys started writing those letters on – you guessed it – August 29.  Before then they agreed the investigation was proper.

 

Oh, and what about this.  Last week the McCain camp put our Governor in a bizarre position.  They told her to file an ethics complaint against herself!  Yup, again after her VP nomination.  Too weird?  What’s behind this move?  You guessed it.  Lawyers.  

 

To create the legal argument that the Legislature cannot investigate government misconduct, the McCain team has had her file a complaint against herself before something called the State Personnel Board.  That’s a 3 member group of Republican Gubernatorial appointees – that, if it started this week, wouldn’t get an investigation done, and reported to the public, until after the November election.  Convenient.

 

Hmmm.  The Legislature has announced they’d have their investigation done – if witnesses would cooperate like they were until August 29 – by October 10.  I can’t imagine why the McCain camp would prefer an investigation that doesn’t get finished until after November.  Any ideas?

 

So what about the claim that this investigation is some sort of partisan plot against a Republican ticket?  A legislative committee of 8 Republicans and 4 democrats asked former Assistant District Attorney Hollis French, a Democrat – to hire a legislative investigator in July.  He did.  He’s not doing the investigation.  So the complaint that he’s a Democrat who supports Barack Obama  is, well, weak.  He’s a Democrat who supports Barack Obama, who was appointed before Governor Palin was a VP candidate.  More importantly, he’s a Senator who has the confidence of a majority Republican Senate. 

 

He once said to the press the results of the investigation are likely to be troubling.  He shouldn’t have said that.  But the Governor’s said it too.  The newspapers have said it.  We all know it.  The public record already contains evidence that the Department of Public Safety was contacted roughly 20 times by Palin senior staff, and her husband Todd, about firing Trooper Wooten.  The Governor has conceded that based on this evidence, the public could conclude the Department could have felt pressure from above to fire Trooper Wooten.

 

The investigator, Steve Branchflower, is a former DA and Office of Victims Rights head (a job he was appointed to by a Republican Legislature).  He’s actually conducting the investigation.  Attacking Senator French doesn’t really work if he’s not investigating the case, or making any findings.  So the McCain folks have attacked Mr. Branchflower.  And they’ve tried to stop him from issuing subpoenas to the witnesses now directed not to talk.  Today the McCain folks suffered a setback.  A bi-partisan committee of Republicans and Democrats authorized Mr. Branchflower to move ahead to subpoena those witnesses.

 

And for good measure – the McCain folks are attacking Walt Monegan – the Public Safety Commissioner Governor Palin fired.  The Troopergate investigation involves claims that Monegan was fired for not agreeing to fire Trooper Wooten, the Governor’s brother in law involved in a very ugly custody dispute with the Governor’s sister. 

 

I don’t begrudge the Governor for not liking her brother-in-law.  I don’t really like him either, from what I’ve read.  I do begrudge those who’d attack Commissioner Monegan, a quintessential public servant who’s worked for both Republican and Democratic heads on the state and local level. 

 

These three public servants deserve better.  What they’ve received so far, is a little dose of ugly Washington politics in a state where we don’t see that stuff too often.

 

I stood on the sidelines when this investigation started.  When Governor Palin fired Commissioner Monegan, my advice was to end the flap and just hire him back. He does good work.  He’s well respected.  Unfortunately, my advice sometimes isn’t that good, and the Governor didn’t agree.

 

Then McCain’s staff of outsiders came to town.  And they began to launch personal attacks on people I respect.  They started proving that the same old politics that have caused dissatisfaction with Washington insiders these past 8 years are going to be the bread and butter of the McCain campaign.  

 

So – here I am today.  I support an Obama presidency because he shares a vision I believe in.  I’ve publicly supported him since the race started last year.  I also think Governor Palin originally did the right thing in agreeing to take some small lumps by proceeding with a legislative investigation Republicans and Democrats, and much of the public asked for.   

 

But unfortunately Alaska is the bull’s eye in a national presidential race today.  When told by the McCain folks that she needed to change her position, she did, as a loyal running mate.  I understand that.

 

As an Alaskan I’m not really angry at our Governor for this mess.  I do blame John McCain for the ugliness he’s brought to our state this week.   His folks have come to my small state to attack my friends, and people I respect, for political gain.  In my book, that’s not OK.  We all mess up time to time.  But this crosses the line. 

 

In small states, like small towns, people who act like the McCain folks apologize.  Until that happens, I’ll keep defending 3 public servants who deserve better.

 





Palin’s Lawyer is at it Again.

11 09 2008

Investigator, Stephen Branchflower

Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein

Palin’s lawyer is at it again… Remember him? Thomas Van Flein?  Last time I wrote about him, I talked about my irresistable urge to pronounce his name with an accent.  It’s such a good villain name.  Well now, not only am I typing his name with an accent, but in light of his new shenanigans, I’ll add a thin twirly moustache.  So what have you been up to now….Van Fleinnn??

After his last attempt to derail the ethics investigation into Palin’s firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan falied, he’s trying again.  This time, instead of Senator Hollis French, he’s going after retired prosecutor turned special investigator Stephen Branchflower.

“Steve Branchflower is a highly respected prosecutor and public servant,” said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage. “If there were wrongs committed, he will find them. If there were not, he has the professional experience and good judgment to say so.”

Apparently Mr. Van Flein has another opinion.  He says that both Hollis French, and Stephen Branchflower are friends of Walt Monegan, but didn’t say upon what he was basing that statement.  He also requested copies of all emails having to do with the hiring of Branchflower, and emails among the legislative council to Branchflower and French.

In July, Palin said she did nothing wrong and that she welcomed an investigation.  Now, after becoming McCain’s running-mate, and with the outcome of the investigation set to come on October 31, just 5 days before election day, any roadblock will do.  No more welcome wagon.

So far, the Legislature has successfully dodged attempts to delay the investigation.  Will they be able to fend off Van Flein’s latest diabolical scheme?  Stay tuned.





Palin is Lawyered Up and Ready to Joust.

2 09 2008

Take a few hours off, and see what happens? Apparently it’s not possible to blink these days without missing the latest bit of Palin drama. While I was out snapping photos of the governor’s home town of Wasilla and its environs, the state of Alaska was busy running an errand for Sarah – finding her a lawyer. Yes, she’s lawyered up. And the sparks are flying already.

It all goes back to Troopergate. If you need to consult the Troopergate Primer, go HERE. We’ll wait….

Now, we’d like to welcome our newest player to the growing cast of characters in our little drama – Thomas Van Flein. Mr. Van Flein (don’t you just have to say that with an accent?!) has been hired to represent Palin in the upcoming legislative investigation into the firing of Commissioner Walt Monegan.

“But wait!” you may be asking, “What about the state Attorney General? Why can’t he handle this?” Why not AG Talis Colberg? Well, he’s the one that Palin sent out to do a pre-emptive sleuthing campaign to see what the Legislature was going to find out when they investigated her. Just so she’d have a heads up. So now Colberg, who has already been talking to everybody and his uncle about the Trooper, including Walt Monegan, has now opened himself up to being called as a witness! So he’s out. (And incidentally, he’s also going to take over the role of Governor of Alaska should Palin end up as the VP, and her Lt. Governor Sean Parnell win his bid for Alaska’s sole House seat. My head hurts).

Now that John McCain has gotten his mits into this mess, the McCain/Palin campaign has put together a four-page statement saying that her husband Todd Palin and members of her administration had simply inquired “about the appropriate Department of Public Safety procedures for dealing with someone they considered a dangerous person and rogue trooper.” No pressure, just simple friendly inquiries. BUT, they say, keep in mind that Sarah Palin herself only became aware of her husband’s and all those other people’s ‘inquiries’ very recently, long after they were made. Because married people don’t talk about things like exacting vengeance on dastardly ex-brothers-in-law (on whom they’ve filed dozens of complaints) with each other. Todd did it all on his own. That rogue!

Here’s where the gloves come off. Van Flein, Palin’s new lawyer, says that the state legislature shouldn’t be handling the investigation at all. It would be much better, he says, if the state Personnel Board (a three person board appointed by Sarah Palin herself) did the investigation. And Van Flein also asked for all witness statements, documents and other materials collected in the course of the legislature’s investigation.

Hollis French, the state senator, and former state prosecutor who is heading up the investigation said, “No.” and “No.” French reminded Van Flein that Palin has been saying she has nothing to hide all along, and is Palin aware that Van Flein seems to be questioning the legislature’s legitimacy? (That was the first No.) Then he said that Palin had sent the Attorney General out to do the dirty work of talking to all the witnesses first anyway, so go get the information from him. And he told Stephen Branchflower, the real investigator, not to give any info to Van Flein. (Second No.)

Palin and Van Flein vs. French and Branchflower. Doesn’t that sound like some kind of epic medieval jousting match? Good analogy.

Van Flein saddles up. He says, “Our concern is that Hollis French turns into Ken Starr and uses public money to pursue a political vendetta rather than truly pursue an honest inquiry into an alleged ethics issue.”

OHHHHH. Name calling metamorphosis imagery and conservative hot button issue! FOUL for Van Flein!

And now French galloping at full speed…. “How does Van Flein explain the unanimous vote (to pursue the investigation of Palin) by the Republican-dominated Legislative Council?” OUCH! Van Flein is off the horse. Boy that had to hurt.

OK, now Branchflower is ready to take on Palin for some questioning. But…where is Palin? Is Palin in the house? (looking around) Ohh that’s right…busy with that Vice Presidential thing.

Van Flein, dusting himself off, pipes up: The investigation is “bad timing” in the middle of a presidential campaign!

Methinks the presidential campaign is “bad timing” in the middle of an investigation. But that’s just me.

BREAKING NEWS 9/2/08 4:35 LOCAL TIME:

Palin has just released documentation indicating that she will attempt to scuttle the investigation by the Legislature and steer it to the control of the State Personnel Board, a 3-member board that Palin herself appointed.  The stall tactics begin.  The McCain campaign does NOT want a Legislative investigation, and they don’t want the results of that investigation to come 5 days before the election as it is scheduled now.  More shenanigans to come, I’m sure.