Alaska editorial: Let's not judge other politicians too quickly

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Alaska has 69 appointed state judges, plus federal judges - and almost 500,000 unappointed with the right to vote in the next statewide election.

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Sadly, many Alaskans unentitled to wear a black robe will judge, but won't vote.

This has been one of the darkest years in Alaska's history with allegations, charges and convictions related to political corruption.

Former Alaska state Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, was found guilty in July of seven felonies related to extortion, bribery and money laundering. His sentencing is scheduled for this week.

Former Alaska House Speaker Pete Kott was convicted in September on three charges of bribery, conspiracy and extortion.

The charges stem from an FBI investigation that has focused on two of the state's three members of Congress, the former president of the state Senate, four state legislators and two VECO executives. The executives - former VECO president Bill Allen and former vice president Rick Smith - pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska legislators and testified in Kott's trial.

Jury selection began Monday in the trial for former Wasilla Rep. Vic Kohring, and the trial for former Juneau Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch is imminent. No one else has been charged.

Even if they are, it is imperative that voters remember two things. First, everyone, regardless of their status in life, is innocent unless proven guilty and should not be judged beforehand, and secondly, it is an election year.

That means that political parties, candidates and their supporters - not all of whom are interested in taking the high road - will be working behind the scenes as well as out front to paint one candidate or another as a star and others as, well, dirt. No one is all bad, and neither is any human being all good.

But the good ones generally possess high integrity and good character, which translates into compassion for the others and an attitude of forgiveness once any debt to society is paid.

So Gov. Sarah Palin and others interested in positions currently held by those being investigated might temper their comments. They might consider that life has a curious way of turning tables quickly. The accuser can become the accused in a flash.

Palin told The New York Times, according to an Aug. 17 story about Sen. Ted Stevens and his relationship with Alaskans, "We should not be afraid of change," indicating a lack of concern for another Alaskan, especially an Alaskan who has devoted his life to public service in Alaska, and one many Alaskans perceive she hopes to replace some day. Yes, she's ready for change. But Alaskans who believe in the democratic process aren't.

Others, too, are convicting Alaskans who to date haven't been charged with a crime. Former state Democratic party chief Jake Metcalfe characterized Congressman Don Young as "a wounded bear." Most often wounded bears are dispatched. But whatever the outcome for Young, Metcalfe, who has announced an intent to seek Young's seat, appears to be less saddened that an Alaskan is under investigation than he is keen on personal political benefit.

The trouble with this attitude is that it will come back to bite. The basis on which a candidate characterizes or judges an opponent certainly will be the same measure by which he or she is judged. Few can stand against the scrutiny or the frenzy when piranha decide to feed. No one is perfect; some do better than others, but no one in recent times has lived an impeccable life, and if the piranha bite, they can hurt the best Alaskans.

Alaskans will best be able to judge the candidates in the upcoming election year by how they speak about their opponents. Those with personal humility will be apparent; they won't be casting aspersions or dismissing the public service of others who might be under investigation, but aren't charged or convicted.

Is it possible that the VECO boys who plea bargained with federal prosecutors simply are trying to save themselves and their families? Does the evidence of their confessions and convictions show that they aren't the most trustworthy witnesses? Isn't it important to consider the integrity and the character of an accuser in an investigation?

This nation has had a recent example of justice gone awry in the Duke University lacrosse team case. Three team members were incorrectly judged by authorities, the media and many other Americans. It turns out they were innocent. The cases proved suspect before any trials took place. But the boys had been treated as if they were guilty, and their defenders were disparaged as well.

We shouldn't judge prematurely. Let the authorities sort out what is true and what isn't. All kinds of suspicions might turn out to be baseless. Or not. Some weren't. But let's put ourselves in the place of the people whose names are being mentioned in connection with the federal investigation. Would we want to be judged before the completion of an investigation? Would we be honorable enough to allow an investigation to proceed without any perception of attempting to influence it? Could we refrain from lashing out at our accusers?

Perhaps we should judge - as candidates, prospective candidates and the judges at the ballot boxes who ultimately decide - as we would want to be judged and at the appropriate time.

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