While a growing number of Alaskans were growing content to allow Troopergate to "gracefully" exit the public stage, as evidenced by a KTUU January 28th poll which showed that only 53 percent of respondents thought the legislature should take further action, there are others who demand more accountability now. The Anchorage Daily News and CNN report that on February 6th, 2009, the Alaska State Senate voted 16-1 to find Gov. Sarah Palin's husband, Todd, and nine Palin aides in contempt for failing to show up when ordered by subpoena to testify in the Legislature's "Troopergate" investigation of the governor.
Senator Con Bunde (R-Anchorage Hillside) cast the only vote against it. Senators Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River), Gene Therriault (R-Fairbanks) and Tom Wagoner (R-Kenai) were excused. These four senators constitute what's referred to as the Senate Minority, a group of five Republicans who opted out of the majority coalition.
However, the Senate resolution also said there should be no punishment because Todd Palin and the others did eventually submit written statements to the investigator, Steve Branchflower. Senator Hollis French (D-Anchorage), who provided the legislative and financial muscle behind the non-partisan Branchflower investigation which rendered an "abuse of power" finding against Sarah Palin but otherwise exonerated her, explained the Senate's action. "People kept saying 'You've got to do something about the subpoenas -- what are you going to do about the subpoenas?" said French, who sponsored the resolution. "And while there was practically no support for doing anything regarding the governor, a lot of people were upset that the subpoenas were ignored. It memorializes their contempt and it balances that wrongdoing with their compliance once the suit was resolved," French concluded.
But fueling the resolution was the fact that Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg delayed compliance with the subpoenas and advised others to follow suit while he sued in order to kill the subpoenas. But after he lost his court fight, cooperation was immediately forthcoming. Colberg did not have an immediate comment on the Senate resolution, saying he needed to read it first.
The other Troopergate investigation, launched by the state's Personnel Board, completely exonerated Governor Palin. But many Alaskans remain suspicious of the outcome since, although the Board by definition is an independent body, its members are appointed by the Governor. One can see how the perception of a conflict of interest could arise. The Personnel Board's findings are discussed HERE and HERE.
A contempt finding was one of four demands levied by a grass-roots organiazation called Alaskans For Truth, formed to pursue Troopergate to a more accountable conclusion. Their four demands:
-- Censure Governor Sarah Palin who, the Branchflower Report found to have "abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act" which provides “The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust".
-- Seek contempt charges against the Governor’s husband, Todd Palin and the state officials who willingly ignored the Legislative Council's subpoenas during the investigation.
-- Hold hearings on whether Gov. Palin and her husband, committed perjury in their sworn statements to Timothy Petumenos, in his function as independent counsel to the Alaska State Personnel Board.
-- Call for an independent investigation to determine if Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg or others engaged in criminal witness tampering in advance of the Branchflower investigation.
A legislative response to Alaskans For Truth reveals another reason why no punishment is expected to be levied. Rep. Mike Doogan (D-Anchorage) was one of only three lawmakers to address their concerns directly, and Alaskans For Truth posted his response HERE. Here's what Doogan had to say about prospective penalties:
Seek contempt charges against the governor’s husband and state officials who ignored subpoenas. Again, we have no contempt-of-the-Legislature powers. We’d have to go to court. Since the Senate Judiciary Committee did not go to court to enforce the subpoenas, I doubt the courts could find those who ignored the subpoenas in contempt. Again, I suppose we could pass a resolution, but I don’t think there’s much more we could do.
Consequently, it appears that the real purpose of the Senate's resolution is simply to ensure that the legislature has the last word on Troopergate rather than Governor Sarah Palin. If Governor Palin is smart, she will leave it there rather than lash out in a tit-for-tat mode as she has in her ongoing feud with the media. Meanwhile, even though Alaskans For Truth are unlikely to reach their specific goals in this case, their advocacy alone could educate enough Alaskans in order to minimize a recurrence of a Troopergate-like scandal.