Despite an ongoing investigation of possible abuse of her power, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has maintained a popularity rating in the 80 percent range this year among state residents, according to recent independent polls. And Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's announcement Friday, Aug. 29, that he had chosen Palin as his running mate is likely to drive her support among Alaskans even higher.
In July, the Alaska Legislature approved a $100,000 budget for an investigation of whether she attempted to force the firing of a state trooper who had divorced her sister before Palin was elected governor in 2006. The probe is being conducted by a private investigator under the direction of state Sen. Hollis French, the chairman of the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee and a Democratic member of the Senate's bipartisan majority coalition.
Alaska's constitution gives the governor complete authority to hire and fire cabinet members. The inquiry over Trooper Mike Wooten is intended to find out if she tried to force her former commissioner of public safety, Walt Monegan, to axe Wooten. The inquiry, which has yet to include an interview with Palin, is expected to be completed before the November election. Palin has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Palin received 80 percent positive ratings and 13 percent negatives in a poll conducted Aug. 9-12 by Ivan Moore Research, an independent polling organization based in Anchorage. Positives included responses from people who felt "very positive" or "somewhat positive" about Palin.
In three similar polls earlier this year, Palin's worst rating was 76 percent positive and 18 percent negative. Those numbers came from a survey conducted July 18-22, shortly before the so-called "Troopergate" scandal broke. Palin's best numbers came from a January poll that gave her 82 percent positive ratings and 11 percent negatives.
Each poll included responses from 500 Alaska residents who considered themselves "likely voters" in this year's elections.
Moore noted that his most recent poll was completed on Aug. 12, the day before Palin held a news conference at which she disclosed that members of her executive staff had contacted personnel at the Alaska Department of Public Safety more than two dozen times in relation to "Troopergate."
"Everyone's kind of talking about the scandal and being embroiled in this controversy and ethical misconduct, blah, blah, blah," Moore said in an interview Friday. "As far as what Alaskans think about her, I don't think there's any blame assigned here, assuming of course that the Frank Bailey news didn't pop that bubble."
Frank Bailey, Palin's director of boards and commissions, was placed on paid leave from his $78,528 per year job on Aug. 20 for his part in the Wooten affair.
Wooten was disciplined in 2005 for illegally killing a moose and tasering his 11-year-old stepson, who is Palin's nephew. Other allegations, including drinking on the job, were not substantiated. As part of a standard security review for any new governor, Palin informed Monegan of the Wooten matter.
At an Aug. 13 news conference, Palin disclosed that Bailey and other members of her staff, including a former chief of staff, had contacted personnel at the Department of Public Safety in relation to Wooten.
At the news conference, recordings of Bailey's telephone conversation with Trooper Lt. Rodney Dial were released to reporters. Dial is the Department of Public Safety legislative liaison. Bailey didn't know he was calling on a recorded phone line.
"Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads, why on Earth hasn't, why is this guy still representing the department? He's a horrible recruiting tool." (Todd Palin is the governor's husband.) "... You know, I mean, from their perspective, everyone's protecting him," Bailey said during the conversation.
Palin cautioned reporters at the news conference that Bailey's conversation would sound like a "smoking gun" but wasn't, because she had not been aware he made the call and had not directed him to do so. "It's embarrassing for me to disclose at this time a conversation has occurred, again, unbeknownst to me," Palin said.
While Palin has consistently championed accountability and openness in her public comments. her record as governor is not completely consistent or absolutely strict on ethical matters involving her staff and others.
In June 2007, Jeremiah Campbell, a member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, pleaded "no contest" to a misdemeanor charge of committing an unlawful act as a big-game commercial services transporter. Campbell declined to resign his seat on the "Fish Board," which regulates commercial and sport fishing in Alaska.
State law allows the governor to remove a Fish Board member only for specific cause, including violation of state hunting and fishing laws. Palin declined to dismiss Campbell and issued no public statements sanctioning him.
In July 2007, Palin fired her legislative liaison, John Bitney, after learning he had been sexually involved with Deborah Richter, the wife of a good friend of Todd Palin. Richter, also from Wasilla, where the governor had been mayor, was appointed as director of the Permanent Fund Dividend Division after Palin's election. She was not sanctioned and remains in her job as manager of the agency that sends the annual checks from oil revenue to Alaska residents each fall.