Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
While Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will be touted as a "reformer" in her new role as John McCain's running mate, it's worth remembering that she has been trying in recent weeks to extricate herself from a scandal back home.
It's been a minor scandal, by recent Alaska standards, but has posed continuing headaches for Palin, 44, nonetheless. In July, she fired Walt Monegan, her public safety commissioner. Thanks to a blog run by a political enemy, speculation quickly centered on the question of whether Monegan's departure was due to his failure to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper who is the ex-husband of Palin's sister.
The legislature recently opened an investigation into the matter, appropriating $100,000 to hire an outside investigator.
"The fact of the matter is that there is nothing to investigate with the firing of Walt Monegan," says Democratic state Representative Mike Doogan. "Commissioners are at will employees and she can fire them if she doesn't like the way they part their hair."
The question was whether the governor or her staff had exerted undue influence in trying to get Wooten fired, who is in a position with civil service protections. Palin herself asked state Attorney General Talis Colberg to look into the matter.
Earlier this month, that investigation turned up a taped phone call Frank Bailey, her boards and commissions director, had made to Monegan's agency, clearly looking for Wooten to be fired. Last week, Palin put Bailey, who had managed her 2006 campaign, on paid leave.
The whole affair may seem minor compared to the bribery scandal that has led to the indictment of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens and the conviction of three former state legislators so far. But Palin has been on the defensive about the matter for several weeks. It was an unusual position for the governor, who had been highly popular for taking a strong stand on ethics.
Her situation showed the difficulty facing politicians who run on a clean government platform. They end up being held to a higher standard -- the one they themselves have pledged to uphold.
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