ANCHORAGE - The Democratic state senator who oversaw the "Troopergate" investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin filed a letter of intent Wednesday to run for her job.
Sen. Hollis French, of Anchorage, stopped short of calling his filing with the Alaska Public Offices Commission a formal declaration.
"It's a way to continue the exploration process and keep a dialogue with Alaskans about what they want to see in their next governor," he said by phone from Florida, where he's tending to his ailing mother.
A formal decision on his candidacy will come "sooner rather than later," he said. He is mindful that people are interested in the job, he said, and Alaska has a lot of ground to cover for a candidate before the August 2010 primary.
French, 50, is a former Anchorage assistant district attorney. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, has not said whether she will seek a second term as governor. Her role as John McCain's running mate vaulted her into the national spotlight and she is considered a possible contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
In her first years in office, French was one of the Democrats with whom Palin worked closely, pushing ethics reforms and legislation that Alaskans hope will lead to the state's next boom, a multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline tapping North Slope reserves.
However, their relationship turned sour last year.
French played a prominent role in an investigation of the firing of Palin's Public SafetyCommissioner, the affair that became known as Troopergate.
Palin fired Walt Monegan, a former Anchorage police chief, in July 2008. State lawmakers launched a $100,000 investigation to determine if Palin dismissed Monegan because he would not fire the governor's ex-brother-in-law, Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a messy custody battle with Palin's sister.
In 2005, the Palin family accused Wooten of drinking beer in his patrol car, illegally shooting a moose and firing a Taser at his 11-year-old stepson. The Palins also claimed Wooten threatened to kill Palin's father.
Wooten was suspended over the allegations for five days in 2006 but Palin's family and staff pressed for his firing.
Palin denied that Monegan's dismissal had anything to do with her former brother-in-law and denied orchestrating dozens of telephone calls made by staff and family members to Wooten's bosses.
The legislative investigation concluded in October that Palin unlawfully abused her power by trying to have her former brother-in-law fired, but the firing was legal since Monegan was an at-will employee.
Before the investigation concluded, Palin said she was unlikely to receive a fair review. She filed an ethics complaint against herself to put the matter before the state personnel board.
That body concluded Palin had violated no ethics laws when she fired Monegan.
French, who has a reputation for verbally shooting from the hip, almost sabotaged the legislature's investigation. He was quoted saying the probe's results were going to be an "October surprise" that was likely to be damaging. French later conceded he had said things he probably should not have, but noted that he would not be in charge of gathering the facts and writing the report.
French said Wednesday the focus for the state next year will be the proposed pipeline that could deliver Alaska natural gas to a distribution point in Alberta, and that he was well-equipped to lead the effort.
"How do we propose a successful gas pipeline that returns a fair deal for Alaska," he said.
As a state senator, he said, he had been deeply involved in the issue, seeking public disclosure of a proposal under former Gov. Frank Murkowski and helping push through Palin's measure.
"It has certainly produced two strong efforts that are working their way down the field," he said. BP and ConocoPhillips is working on one. TransCanada and Exxon Mobil are working on a second.
The only Democrat who has formally announced he is running for governor is Bob Poe, a business consultant and former state Administration Department commissioner under Gov. Tony Knowles.