The Ted Stevens Indictment: Good or Bad for Sarah Palin?

Even if it wasn't a huge surprise, whenever someone who has an airport named after him gets indicted, it's a pretty big deal. So, to ...
by | July 29, 2008

Even if it wasn't a huge surprise, whenever someone who has an airport named after him gets indicted, it's a pretty big deal. So, to state the obvious, the indictment of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens will affect the entire Alaska political world, including Gov. Sarah Palin.

There's a case to be made that Palin, a Republican, benefits from her fellow Republican's legal problems. Palin and Stevens represent very different generations of political leadership.

In the Republican primary for governor in 2006, Palin defeated Frank Murkowski, who served as Stevens' junior senator for more than two decades. Palin was the fresh-faced reformer, while Murkowski was viewed as out-of-touch and corrupt. Stevens' troubles may remind Alaskans why they liked Palin in the first place.

With U.S. Rep. Don Young, another longtime Republican officeholder, also in electoral trouble this year, the changing of the guard in the Alaska G.O.P. may soon be complete. The new guard is Sarah Palin.

The Stevens story also helps Palin by taking some of the attention away from the topic that's been dominating Alaska politics for a couple of weeks: Palin's firing of her public safety director.

Alan has all the details over at the 13th Floor, but suffice it to say that the steady drip, drip, drip of unflattering news has represented one of the biggest challenges of Palin's tenure. The governor can't be too upset about anything that gets the press off her back, even temporarily.

That said, the negatives are at least as great as the positives. Even if it serves as a brief press diversion, the Stevens story could make the firing scandal worse for Palin by creating one of the most dangerous things in politics: a narrative. Here, the narrative would be Republicans behaving badly.

That risk is especially great because Palin and Stevens have remained relatively close, in spite of the senator's troubles. Earlier this month, Palin's office put out a press release touting her agreement with Stevens on energy issues. Palin's former chief of staff serves as Stevens' campaign manager. If Stevens wins the August Republican primary in spite of his indictment (a very real possibility), what will Palin say?

Palin isn't up for reelection until 2010, so her most immediate concern may be that Democrats gain more seats in the state legislature because of an anti-Republican mood in the state.

Palin has clashed at times with the leadership of the State Senate, where, in spite of the Republicans 11-9 edge, a bipartisan coalition rules. She appeared to catch a break when the head of the coalition, Senate President Lyda Green, announced that she wouldn't seek reelection.

However, as I reported a few weeks ago, Democrats are optimistic about winning the tenth seat they would need to get an even split in the Senate. I have to think they're even more optimistic today. So, Palin's chances of having a sympathetic Republican in charge of the legislature's upper chamber aren't looking especially good.

For now, all of this is just speculation. The only thing I can say for sure is that Alaska politics -- which couldn't have been accused of lacking excitement before the Stevens indictment -- just got a little bit more interesting.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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