Northern fights

Next in the Alaska scandals roundup: An errant senator's son and Troopergate. Part 2 of 2
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U.S. Congressman Don Young and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. (U.S. Congress)

Next in the Alaska scandals roundup: An errant senator's son and Troopergate. Part 2 of 2
Second of two parts.

There's no way to know how many current or former lawmakers, or others, may yet face charges, but the biggest known potential catch is Ben Stevens. Sen. Ted's son was president of the Alaska Senate during the 2005-06 term when Murkowski's gas pipeline deal, which Ben ardently supported, was rejected. Bill Allen, the VECO boss, implicated Ben during his testimony.

In his state financial disclosure forms, Ben reported over $250,000 in consulting fees from VECO from 2001 to 2006, but has steadfastly refused to explain what he did or show any work product. The younger Stevens, who was appointed to the Alaska Senate in 2001 was elected to a full term in 2002 and became its president for the 2005-06 term and did not seek re-election in '06.

Besides working as a consultant/lobbyist for VECO on federal issues, Ben Stevens also worked for various Alaska fishing organizations. After the 2006 FBI raids in Alaska, records of several seafood companies here and in Seattle were subpoenaed. To date no charges against anyone implicate any seafood companies.

Alaska's executive branch, past and present, has not been left unscathed in this season of scandals. Jim Clark, an attorney, timber industry lobbyist, and chief of staff to former Gov. Murkowski should be sentenced soon after pleading guilty in March to a federal conspiracy charge. He admitted working with Bill Allen and others to spend $68,500 of VECO money on polls during Murkowski's 2006 primary election defeat.

That leaves Gov. Sarah Palin, who has maintained a public approval rating above 80 percent since she was elected in 2006. On July 11, Palin fired Commissioner Walt Monegan, the union-friendly former Anchorage police chief she brought on to head the Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) when she took office.

Palin was vague about the sudden firing, saying only that she wanted a "new direction" for the department. Shortly thereafter, Andrew Halcro, a former one-term House member who lost to Palin in the 2006 general election when he ran as an independent, charged in his blog that Monegan was canned because he would not fire State Trooper Mike Wooten, who was messily divorced from Palin's sister.

Wooten, still a trooper, was disciplined before Palin was elected governor for things like drinking on the job and tasering his own pre-teen son. (He said it was to teach the boy what tasers could do.) As part of a standard security status review for any new governor, Palin informed Monegan, after she took office, of alleged threats from Wooten to her and family members.

After Alaskan media picked up on Halcro's allegations, the legislature followed suit. On Aug. 1, former state district attorney Steve Branchflower was hired to investigate Palin's dismissal of Monegan. Branchflower, who has subpoena power and a budget of up to $100,000, is in the midst of an investigation lawmakers hope to have concluded before the November elections.

In a preemptive Aug. 13 news conference, Palin announced that research by her Dept. of Law, intended only to help Branchflower, found that more than 24 contacts were made to Monegan or others in the DPS on the Wooten matter by members of her executive staff, including several by her first chief of staff, Mike Tibbles.

Among the contacts was a call from Frank Bailey, Palin's director of boards and commissions, to a trooper lieutenant who was the DPS legislative liaison. Bailey is one of several residents of Wasilla who won well-paid jobs in the new administration of their former mayor. Bailey told the trooper that the governor and her husband, Todd, were "scratching their heads" over Wooten's continued employment as a trooper.

Bailey, who didn't know his phone call was recorded, also claimed that Wooten had lied on his trooper job application. Bailey's access to the application could be a personnel privacy violation.

At Palin's news conference, CD copies of Bailey's conversation were released to reporters. The governor herself warned that it would sound like a "smoking gun" but really wasn't because she didn't know he had made that or other calls and he wasn't speaking for her. A day later, Branchflower announced that he had opened a tip line on the entire matter (1-907-264-6617).

The ongoing episode has probably killed the sliver of a chance Palin had to become John McCain's vice presidential running mate, though she has consistently said she is not seeking a spot on the national Republican ticket.


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