Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has vigorously denied that her disagreements with Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten has anything to do with her decision to dismiss Walt Monegan from his position as the state's Public Safety Commissioner. She also denied that she asked Monegan to fire Wooten, and also denied firing Monegan for refusing to fire Wooten. This was in response to a controversial post on Andrew Halcro's blog (which has now attracted 188 public comments), where he raised the possibility that Palin may have fired Monegan for personal reasons. This post based upon stories published by the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU Channel 2.
This denial was contained in a statement she issued on Thursday July 17th. The full statement is posted on ADN's Alaska Politics blog. Here's the applicable excerpt:
"To allege that I, or any member of my family, requested, received or released confidential personnel information on an Alaska State Trooper, or directed disciplinary action be taken against any employee of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), is, quite simply, outrageous", according to the statement.
In addition, Governor Palin said that since she took office in December 2006, the only mention she has made of Wooten to anyone in the Public Safety Department was when she sat down with Monegan at the beginning of her term to discuss her security detail. She told Monegan that Wooten had "threatened to kill my dad and bring me down." She also told Monegan about allegations of unethical and illegal behavior. But, she said, she thought that was the end of it. "I don't believe my discussion went anywhere," she said on Thursday in a phone interview. Palin said she never has asked for another trooper investigation, although she also made it clear she continues to hold Wooten in low regard.
Walt Monegan did not deny the possibility that Palin gave him the bum's rush. On Thursday, Monegan refused to discuss the issue in detail, claiming that he took an oath, and still considers himself forbidden by state law from discussing personnel matters. He also reiterated that he still does not know precisely why he was fired. But if Governor Palin did not put pressure on him to fire Wooten, I don't see how he would be violating his oath to simply state that no pressure was applied. His failure to make such a statement implies that he may have been pressured. And, according to a story posted by KTVA Channel 11, there was a "feeling" inside Monegan's office that he was being pressured. But Palin did try to fire Monegan more "gently" at first; Monegan was offered a consolation prize of the directorship of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. But he refused the position.
Governor Palin continues to maintain that she dismissed Monegan and replaced him with Kenai Police chief Charles Kopp because she wants a new direction for the department. The appointment of Kopp has spawned a separate controversy over a since-resolved allegation of sexual harassment in his past. But more importantly, once again Palin failed to specify what the new direction for DPS should be, or why Walt Monegan, in her opinion, was not capable of taking DPS in that direction.
The family feud revolves around Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, who was once married to Governor Palin's younger sister, now known as Molly McCann. Due to irreconcilable differences, the two divorced in 2005. However, they continue to battle over child custody issues. Governor Palin is apparently very protective of her sister, and ended up launching what increasingly appears to be a personal witch hunt against the trooper, filing repeated complaints against him. She was not in elective office at the time. Only two of the complaints were substantiated; Wooten illegally killed a moose in 2003, and he Tasered his 11-year-old stepson, at the kid's request. The Taser was used at the lowest possible setting. He was disciplined for both incidents, although once Monegan became DPS Commissioner, he reduced a ten-day suspension of Wooten to five days. This latter move may have helped alienate Palin against Monegan.
However, in his latest blog post, Andrew Halcro reveals interesting information about the moose kill. After the moose was killed in 2003, Governor Palin's father butchered the moose in his garage, then after Wooten paid to have the meat processed, shared it with the Palin family. Yet it wasn't until two years later, in 2005 after the Wootens' marriage went on the rocks, that Sarah Palin decided to make an issue and file a complaint. This begs the question - if Palin was so offended by the moose kill, why did she wait two years to file a complaint against Wooten? This coming from a governor who rode to victory on a platform of "ethics". Perhaps the reader can now understand why so many Alaskans have a problem with this.
In an effort to further buttress claims that Wooten has been unfairly targeted by the Palin family, Public Safety Employees Association Director John Cyr released a several-inch-thick file of the troopers' own investigation into the various complaints against Wooten from the Palin family. The file was released at Wooten's request. Copies of some of the documentation can be accessed via the KTVA Channel 11 website.
It is also well-known that Governor Palin and Walt Monegan disagreed on how the troopers should be funded, as previously discussed HERE, with Monegan clearly favoring increased funding in order to help the troopers cope with increased fuel costs and to help recruit more troopers to correct a serious staff shortfall. However, this issue wasn't addressed on Thursday.
Commentary: It seemed like Governor Sarah Palin could do no wrong for the first 18 months of her tenure. Even the controversy over AGIA and the delay in getting a natural gas pipeline could not dent her persistent 85 percent approval rating.
This has now changed; the bloom is clearly off the rose. Many public comments appended to the Anchorage Daily News stories and Andrew Halcro's blog are highly critical of Palin; a few even hysterically call for her resignation. This growing disaffection was starkly revealed in a KTUU Channel 2 unscientific poll conducted on Thursday July 17th. A whopping 88 percent of respondents opposed Palin's firing of Monegan (although the totals are hosed; they add up to over 100 percent, so I suspect the real number is probably 78 percent).
Perhaps the Voice Of The Times uncovered the real problem within the Palin Administration in their latest post. They critique her management style, in which she has her underlings doing the heavy lifting so that she does not have to get her hands dirty. And that may have triggered this whole sequence in the first place; instead of firing her commissioner face-to-face like a responsible, mature adult, she dumped the dirty job on a flunkie. Since commissioners report directly to the governor, only the governor should personally fire them. Her willingness to hide a behind her chief of staff triggered the initial outrage and led to the revelations of what has to be classified as vindictive behavior, at the very least.
Certainly, this sequence does not rise to the level warranting Palin's resignation from office. But it has inflicted considerable damage upon her political integrity, eliminated any VP aspirations, and now she will be looked upon as another "playa", just like everyone else. But if we don't hold Governor Palin accountable, we will have to apologize to Tom Anderson, Pete Kott, and Vic Kohring.