Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin, with reputation as reformer, faces probe over firing

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Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, picked Friday to be Sen. John McCain's running mate in his pursuit of the presidency, has a reputation as a reformer in a state where the Republican party is under siege by prosecutors in a long-running corruption probe.

Palin shocked fellow Republicans in March when she quickly endorsed Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in his primary bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Don Young, who has been Alaska's lone member of the U.S. House for three decades. Young has been the focus of federal prosecutors, though he has not been charged with a crime. The results of Tuesday's primary will not be known for several more days, but Young currently is leading Parnell by 151 votes out of more than 90,000 cast.

Palin also acted quickly in July to call for the resignation of State Sen. John Cowdery, the oldest member of the Alaska legislature and a Republican power when he was indicted on federal bribery charges for his role in an effort to buy the support of another senator in the battle over tax legislation favored by North Slope oil producers.

She has been more circumspect, however, regarding the highest profile corruption investigation involving an Alaska politician, the indictment of the state's senior U.S. senator, Ted Stevens, on charges he failed to report more than $250,000 in gifts from an Alaska businessman.

Stevens and Palin remain close. Palin's former chief of staff serves as manager of Steven's re-election campaign. Stevens trounced six opponents in Tuesday's Republican primary, but faces a tough November battle against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Stevens' trial on the seven-count indictment is set to begin Sept. 24 in Washington.

Palin also faces problems in her own state over what appears to have been questionable efforts by her staff to force the firing of her sister's ex-husband from the Alaska Public Safety Department. The state legislature hired a private investigator to investigate after the governor fired the head of the Public Safety Department, Walt Monegan, who says she did so because he would not fire the trooper.

After initially denying that her staff had brought pressure to have the trooper, Mike Wooten, who was involved in a child custody dispute with Palin's sister, dismissed, Palin had to reverse course after an audio recording emerged in which Frank Bailey, the governor's director of boards and commissions, urged the dismissal of the trooper.

Plain suspended Bailey, but she also admitted that people close to her, including her chief of staff, the state attorney general, and her husband also contacted Monegan about the trooper.

"Many of these inquiries were completely appropriate. However, the serial nature of the contacts could be perceived as some kind of pressure, presumably at my direction," Palin said.

Like most Alaskan politicians, Palin is an advocate of opening oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a position that puts her in conflict with McCain.

She recently was criticized as well for declaring herself opposed to a ballot measure that would have limited discharge from mining operations in the state. Proponents of the measure said she was attempting to improperly influence the outcome of the vote. The measure was overwhelmingly defeated on Tuesday.

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