The bi-partisan council of the Alaska Legislature accepted unanimously (12 to 0) the conclusions of an investigator: Sarah Palin abused her powers as governor. The investigation said that she, her husband, and members of her staff applied pressure on subordinates to get rid of her sister’s ex-husband, the state trooper Michael Wooten.
This is a violation of the ethics act of the Alaska executive branch, which says that "any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust."
Censure or disciplinary measures will be decided by the state executive branch (headed by Palin), the attorney general (appointed by Palin), or the State Personnel Board, which is conducting its own investigation.
But the lasting punishment Palin could receive will come from public opinion. Pundits have noted that being found to abuse power while running as the vice presidential candidate is a blow to her credibility, especially because so little is known about her governing style, and she has portrayed herself as an ethics reformer.
Lyda Green, the Republican president of the Alaska Senate, said the report would damage the Governor’s reputation. She said: “The problem with power is that people pay attention to it, and it's very easy to get beside yourself and use it in the wrong way.
"And we do have to leave personal business at home.”
(Green, apparently, is no fan of Governor Palin. When Palin was nominated she told The Anchorage Daily News, "She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?")
As we reported, three years ago Wooten and the governor’s sister, Molly McCann, were entrenched in a nasty divorce and child-custody battle. The couple divorced in January 2006, but child custody issues are still under dispute.
The 263-page report, which was released yesterday, said that Governor Palin’s husband, Todd, used state resources (calling from the governor’s office) trying to get Wooten fired. And, the report said, the governor “knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda.”
The investigation did conclude, however, that she was within her rights in firing the public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, who resisted pressure to fire Trooper Wooten. That, the report said, was "a proper and lawful exercise" of the governor's authority.
As The New York Times reported, Trooper Wooten had already been suspended from the state police force for five days in response to complaints, mostly from the Palins and the governor’s father. The report found numerous instances, however, in which Ms. Palin and others pressed for harsher punishment, while Monegan and others told them they had gone as far as the law and civil service rules would allow.
Governor Palin insists she didn’t do anything wrong.
Meanwhile, Trooper Wooten is still on the job. And Monegan now is enjoying the satisfaction of victory and causing his former boss some agita.
“I feel that my beliefs and opinions that Wooten was a significant factor, if not the factor, in my termination have been validated,” Monegan told The New York Times, adding, “I was resisting the governor from the very beginning on the Wooten matter to protect her from exactly what just happened to her here, being found to have acted inappropriately.”
Palin maintains that the results have vindicated her, because it found that she had the right to fire Monegan. And her lawyers argued last night that the Governor had not violated the ethics act, because she would not benefit financially from the firing of her brother-in-law. But the investigator’s report made a point of saying that “the term ‘benefit’ is very broadly defined, and includes anything that is to the person's advantage or personal self-interest.”
In this, as in the Christie Brinkley-Peter Cook divorce, it is so clear that ill-will can follow a divorce by months and years, and will sometimes lead people to extreme and even self-destructive behavior. In the case of Sarah Palin, all of this happened not because of her own divorce from the First Dude, but because of her unflinching support of her sister in a divorce.