Lawmakers call for Palin probe

Legislative Council approves investigation into Monegan firing

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008

State lawmakers on Monday approved an investigation into whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power in firing former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

The Legislative Council, which is made up of seven members each from the House and Senate, approved $100,000 for the investigation that is expected to take place over the next several months.

Lawmakers have long said they understand that Monegan and other commissioners serve at will, meaning they can be fired by Palin at any time.

But they want to find out whether Palin was angry at Monegan for not firing an Alaska State Trooper who went through a messy divorce and ongoing child custody battles with Palin's sister.

Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat who serves as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, is in charge of hiring an investigator.

French said he has a short list of candidates.

"The object is to find someone with no connections to either party, no connection to the pro governor or the anti governor side, someone who doesn't have any biases," French said.

French said there are good candidates within the state.

"I know it's hard for those of us in a fishbowl to believe this, but there are lots and lots of people who don't pay attention to the political world," French said. "So, it can get done."

He's also not opposed to hiring someone outside Alaska.

It's the first political backlash against Palin, who ran for governor two years ago on an ethics reform platform. The state Legislature has been rocked by its own problems, including federal corruption indictments against one sitting member and four former members.

The firing has been dogging Palin since she dismissed Monegan July 11, saying she wanted the department to chart a different course.

Palin replaced him with Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp, but that lasted just two weeks. He resigned Friday from the fallout after an undisclosed reprimand that stemmed from a sexual harassment claim against him came to light.

The Kopp issue apparently is over, but lawmakers still want more information from Palin, her husband Todd and members of her administration into the Monegan firing.

Palin was unavailable Monday, but in the past said she welcomed the investigation. "Hold me accountable," Palin has said.

Palin's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said Monday it's implicitly expected the staff will cooperate with an investigator.

Calls for the investigation began about 10 days ago when Monegan said he felt pressured to fire Trooper Mike Wooten, Palin's former brother-in-law.

Monegan has said pressure came from those around Palin, including first gentleman Todd Palin, former Palin chief of staff Mike Tibbles, Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer, and Frank Bailey, director of boards and commissions. Monegan said he doesn't know why he was fired.

Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, an Anchorage Republican who serves as the council's vice chair, said getting answers sooner rather than later is essential.

"We've had a cloud over our body the last few years since the (federal) investigations have occurred," she said. "For the overall good of our state, we just need to get to the bottom of this."

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