Monday, October 13, 2008

 

A turning point for one nest of public corruption

.
Look up ... way up ... look what's going on way up in Alaska. Compare it with what's going on in British Columbia.


See the film footage of U.S. Police in 2006 hauling boxes of files out of Alaska's state legislature. Heck, we did that back in 2003. Then read about Alaska putting 3 legislators on trial for bribery ... just like that! See how the three legislators have been
convicted of bribery charges! And two of them are cooperating with prosecutors!!

Not only that, but the results were made public
-- public!! -- last Friday, already!! Can you believe what your eyes are reading?

Meantime, British Columbia has this dragbutt Gong Show in BC Supreme Court which is all about "pre-trial hearings" but no trial. Our 3 accused persons are not even legislators. These underlings were scheduled for trial in June 2006 but it's never mentioned in court anymore. Backstage wimps moan about dismissal and Charter challenges. How dismal is that. How embarrassing. You wouldn't want to be the B.C. delegate to the next Wiping Out Corruption Convention with only the Basi-Virk story to report.

So let's watch Alaska. Let's see if we can figure out what they call "growing up". After all, B.C. has had 150 years to grow up, while Alaska has had 50 years. So how hard can it be ... if the players really want to put an end to public corruption.

- BC Mary

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alaska’s Growing Pains
Sarah Palin Had Signaled Reform for Alaska -- Before Troopergate

By Laura McGann
The Washington Independent - 10/13/08

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – As one of the most successful newcomers in Alaska’s political arena, Gov. Sarah Palin should have known better than to get into an ethics scandal right now.

The mood of the public in Alaska has been changing, gradually, but noticeably in the last few years. Palin was one of the first to catch on to it — seeing an opening in 2006 when she won an upset victory for governor.

A few years ago, an Alaska official who pursued a personal vendetta in office might not have drawn the ire of the state’s legislature. Voters would have looked the other way. But Alaska seems to have gained a new political maturity.

Palin ran for governor on a reform platform that proved widely appealing. She knocked out the state’s sitting governor, Frank Murkowski, in the GOP primary and defeated a well-known former governor, Tony Knowles, in the general election. Knowles campaigned on “experience” — which effectively tied him to the old guard, though it was the GOP that was embroiled in scandal. That year, voters elected four Democrats to replace Republicans in the state House and Senate.

Just consider the last governor, Murkowski. He had a successful political career spanning many decades, as both a U.S. senator and governor, but he was ultimately punished at the polls in 2006 for appearing to put his own interests and those of oil companies before the state’s.


While Murkowski was flying around Alaska in a private jet, a clique of state lawmakers embraced the nickname the “Corrupt Bastards Club,” because of their alleged cash-for-votes relationship with an oil services firm, Veco Corp. The group had baseball caps made, on Veco’s dime, with their “CBC” insignia embroidered on the back.

The CBCers eventually found themselves in trouble with the law. The FBI raided 12 legislative offices in 2006, as part of a broad investigation into ties between state and federal lawmakers and Veco Corp., whose former chief executive, Bill Allen, and former vice president, Rick Smith, have pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges. No surprise, the legislature wasn’t exactly worrying about lapses in the governor’s mansion.

Since the raids, three state legislators have been convicted of bribery charges over ties to Veco. Allen and Smith are cooperating with prosecutors.

Sen. Ted Stevens, now on trial for failing to list $250,000 in gifts from Veco on Senate disclosure forms, and who was re-elected by Alaska voters in 2002 with 78 percent of the vote, is in a dead heat with his Democratic rival. The state’s lone U.S. congressman, Rep. Don Young, who has spent about $1 million in legal fees this year fighting off a federal corruption probe, is trailing his Democratic competitor by nine points.

This summer, when news broke that Palin may have unethically fired her commissioner of public safety, Walt Monegan, over a long-standing family feud with her ex-brother-in-law, the legislature acted swiftly. They hired a well-respected former Alaska prosecutor, with 28 years experience in the Anchorage district attorney’s office, Steve Branchflower, to handle the investigation. Branchflower’s 236-page report was released Friday to the public by a unanimous vote of the legislative committee.

The 2006 Juneau shakeup, the federal lawmaker’s drop in the polls and the Troopergate investigation reveal a transformation under way in this young state. Alaska, only 50 years old this year, is starting to grow up.

TROOPERGATE

Branchflower’s report found that Palin violated a state ethics law by overseeing a coordinated effort to get her ex-brother-in-law, Michael Wooten, fired from his job as a state trooper. Palin ultimately fired her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, after he wouldn’t oust Wooten, despite being pressured by the governor’s husband, Todd, as well as multiple state officials, including the state attorney general. Todd Palin also pressured Monegan’s replacement on the same issue.

Branchflower exonerated the governor on her final decision to fire Monegan, though his refusal to oust Wooten was likely a factor in his removal.

While Troopergate serves as another example of an Alaska lawmaker embroiled in an ethics scandal, it is also strong evidence of a sea change in the state.

It’s been more than 20 years since the legislature asserted itself so aggressively in an ethics matter. This summer the legislature recognized there is less appetite for corruption in Alaska than before.

“It was just over two years ago that the FBI raided the legislative offices in Anchorage and Juneau,” said state Sen. Hollis French, the Anchorage Democrat who headed the Troopergate investigation. “Since that time the state’s been very alert to ethical lapses in government.”

The state legislature approved hiring Branchflower to investigate the matter in June, three months before Sen. John McCain tapped Palin for the GOP ticket.

Branchflower, now retired, served as an assistant D.A in Alaska for 28 years. He spent much of his career evaluating cases submitted by police and state troopers, determining whether the D.A.’s office would take them up. In that role, he made deals left and right, while staying focused on the case at hand, an Anchorage lawyer who has known him for 20 years said. The lawyer noted that Branchflower is one of the most disciplined people he has ever met.

Lawmakers on the bi-partisan committee that reviewed the report voted unanimously to release it Friday, after a lengthy closed-door session discussing its findings.

“Steve Branchflower’s report is a model of keen analysis and hard work,” French said. “He’s fair. He analyzed the facts and I think he came to balanced conclusions.”

Even among lawmakers who have doubts about the report’s findings, none has questioned Branchflower’s integrity.

“The report was probably rushed to get done before the election,” said Rep. Bill Stoltze, who voted to appoint Branchflower and voted Friday to make the report public.

Stoltze said he didn’t like that Branchflower said he made inferences to reach his conclusions. Though, Stoltze also said that the investigation seemed fair. Stoltze said he did wish there had been “more participation” — a reference to Palin’s decision not to testify, after she had first agreed to cooperate.

The latest poll on Palin’s approval rating was taken before the Troopergate report was completed. At the time, Palin had slipped from her 80 percent approval rating to 65 percent. Anchorage pollster Ivan Moore attributed the drop to the Troopergate scandal and her sudden partisanship on the national stage.

Since the report’s release, Palin has said she is vindicated. “I’m very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing … any hint of any kind of unethical activity there,” Palin told the Anchorage Daily News in a phone interview from the campaign trail.

One of the report’s findings is that Palin broke the law.


THE REFORM CANDIDATE

Palin’s ethics problems are particularly surprising considering she was was supported by an electorate fed up with corruption.

In 2006, Palin looked the part of reform candidate. She had recently stood up to her own state party chairman over accusations of a conflict-of-interest with oil companies. She also filed a bi-partisan complaint that led to the resignation of the state’s GOP attorney general.

Palin had a strong sense of the changing attitudes and targeted that sentiment in the race. “Alaskans deserve transparency and accountability from their leaders,” said Palin on her 2006 campaign Website. “It’s a philosophy I will promote as governor.”

About a month before voters went to the polls in 2006, news cameras revealed the FBI carrying boxes of material out of the 12 state lawmakers’ offices — including Senate President Ben Stevens, son of the senator. The younger Stevens has not been charged.

Things were even starting to change for the federal delegation.


ALASKA’S 50th

This year, Alaska celebrates its 50th year of statehood, thanks to Stevens, who helped usher the territory into statehood in 1958. Stevens, the longest serving GOP senator, has been in the Senate since 1972.

{Snip} ...

By 2006, Stevens — known here as “the most famous Alaskan” — was starting to take heat nationally for his infamous earmarking. The non-partisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Commonsense estimates Alaskans see about $4,300 per person in federal dollars return to their state, compared to states with far larger populations like Texas or New York, where residents see about $95 per person.

Stevens, now on trial in federal court in Washington on charges of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from Veco Corp., without disclosing them on Senate ethics forms, is slipping in the polls. The gifts include the construction of a new first floor in his Girdwood home, as well as furnishings and a state-of-the-art Viking grill.

Stevens is locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Mark Begich, Anchorage’s mayor. The last poll showed Begich with a four-point edge. In 2002, Stevens won with 78 percent.

Many long-time supporters are starting to reconsider whether the state should keep Stevens in office. “[Stevens] brought a lot of money to the state” said Susanne Hutzel, a nurse who lives 20 minutes outside of Anchorage. “But, we have to have a balance.”

Still, change doesn’t come all at once. Stevens garners nearly 50 percent of the vote from Alaskans like Claude Morris, a retired oil field project manager and World War II veteran who lives on the same street in Girdwood as Stevens. Morris credits the long-time senator with bringing Alaska into the modern era, not to mention the town of Girdwood, a small ski-resort town, about an hour and a half drive south of Anchorage.

“Ted Stevens has got my vote no matter what,” Morris said in a recent conversation, as he sat at the Double Musky Inn’s bar, Stevens’ favorite hometown restaurant. “For what he has done for Alaska for the last 40-some years.”

The state’s only congressman, Rep. Don Young, a feisty character, who has never achieved the same popularity here as Stevens, is facing a far tougher campaign season. He’s down about 9 points in the polls.

Young’s popularity has been sliding since last year, when a series of corruption scandals came to light. Young has been accused of taking money from Florida developers in exchange for a $10 million earmark. The Senate has since asked the FBI to look into the earmark, added to a bill after it passed Congress. News also broke last year that Young is under federal investigation for his connections with Veco. Federal agents are looking into an annual pig-roast fund-raiser held at Veco chief executive Bill Allen’s home. Last year, Young was booed and oinked as he arrived at the event.

{Snip} ...


PALIN’S FUTURE

If Palin returns to Alaska as a state politician, its unclear if she will find herself wrapped in with other pols who have fallen out of favor.

Little is likely to happen before the regular legislative session begins on Jan. 20, 2009, according to the House GOP spokesman Will Vandergriff. In order for the legislature to act in a special session, a supermajority of lawmakers, 45 members out of 60, is required. Palin could also call a special session — though that is considered unlikely.

If the legislature acts, Palin could face impeachment.

Separately, the violation of the state ethics law outlined in Branchflower’s report caries up to a $5,000 civil penalty.

Sen. Kim Elton (D-Juneau), who served as chairman of the Legislative Council that oversaw the Troopergate investigation, said in an interview with TWI shortly after the report was released Friday, that he is not prepared to start considering taking action against Palin.

“This is like ‘truth and consequences,”” Elton said, standing in a hallway of the Anchorage legislative offices where the report was released. “Today, I will say we got the truth. The facts are now in the public. I’m not prepared to go to consequences.”

Once the legislature is back in session it will be forced to decide whether to act, or not act.

Is this a turning point for public corruption in Alaska?

“I think we will try to grow up,” said former Anchorage Daily News editorial page editor Michael Carey. “Or we will be caught in the Palin lie machine.”

http://washingtonindependent.com/12148/alaskas-growing-pains

""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""

One of my astute (which is not to say picky) readers has reminded me of copyright law. Is he entirely sure that I don't have permission to reprint? No, he isn't. But today is Thanksgiving so I give thanks for his kindly concern and have snipped the best paragraphs from this clever report. There. Happy? Now if you could only show me, in plain language with diagrams, how to make hyperlinks ... or tell me what the heck "earmarking" is ... as in "infamous earmarking" mentioned above. - BC Mary.

""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""

FBI RAIDS [Alaska] LEGISLATIVE OFFICES

A beautiful example of journalism is this full report on the raids, at:

http://dwb.adn.com/news/government/story/8144643p-8036875c.html

""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""
Earmarking explained:

[Alaska] Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) cites Sen. Stevens Pork following Indictment.


... Sen. Stevens has helped bring home [i.e., "earmarked"] a total of 1,452 pork-barrel projects worth $3.4 billion between 1995 and 2008. Alaska has been the number one state in pork per capita every year since 1999 in CAGW’s Congressional Pig Book. Among his many “Oinker Awards,” Sen. Stevens won the “The Cold Hard Cash Award” for $165.7 million in defense pork in the 2008 Pig Book. Some of his more infamous earmarks include $25 million for a supercomputer at the University of Alaska to study how to trap energy from the aurora borealis; $750,000 for grasshopper research; $500,000 for the Alaska Spruce Bark Beetle Task Force; $200,000 for the city of North Pole for recreation improvements; and $176,000 for the Reindeer Herder’s Association. {Snip} ...

The disdain for reform was best expressed by CAGW’s July Porker of the Month, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) who said, “There’s no way in hell I would support banning earmarks … That’s our job, getting elected and making decisions. Yes, there are bad earmarks, like there are bad members of Congress. And what you do is get rid of them.”


Sheeeeesh. I think that's enough about corruption in government. OK? - BC Mary.

But wait a minute. "City of North Pole"? Canada's North Pole??

""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""

Comments:
"Sheeeeesh."

How about writing something that is on topic, and having to do with the BC Liberals, without having to go outside of the province?

For all of the writing you have done thus far... since the last delay in the trial, ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto.....

I look forward to your comment.
 
.
12:44,

What makes you think this blog is about the BC Liberals?

But, in a strange, derivative way, I love what you said.

This blog's focus is on the possibility of corruption in government. If you think that means BC Liberals, well, you said it ... I didn't.
.
 
Here's another OT, and a little Partisan Mary, but I can't lay off it as I believe this is so important for Lotusland specifically and Canada generally.....

There are the eight, yes eight!, LeftCoast ridings that are, according to the always careful Greg Morrow, 'Too Close To Call With A Con Involved'. These are: VanQuad....NorthVan.... SurreyNorth.....Richmond....NewtonNorthDelta...VanIsleNorth....Saanich...Esquimalt....

All the details on last chance Lotuslandian Con-Stopping possibilities (ie. it's more than just the Environment that must be saved) at my place.

RossK

.
 
.
Say what you gotta say, RossK, there's a lot at stake for Canada right now.

And if nobody minds, I'll climb onto my soapbox too ...

I figure that if we're lucky enough to elect an Anybody But Conservatives government today ... then the other 1/2 of the election must absolutely must kick in ...

... and citizens must take responsibility for guiding their MPs. We must take responsibility for watchdogging the public interest.

We need to get smart about the issues and also about the agenda.

We need to get that across to our MPs.

And we need to learn how best to do that, to make it work smoothly.

That's all I want to say right now.

But coming back to the topic of BC Rail and the Basi-Virk trial, I have some serious thoughts about what Responsible Citizens should be doing in the next while, as we watch Case #23299 going down the tubes ... almost deliberately.

If the trial is dismissed, it will be leaving the the evidence sealed and villains (if any) unrecognized and unpunished. That's wrong and we shouldn't allow that to happen.

I hope others will add to the discussion.

.
 
Thank you for your off the cuff comments BC Mary.

There are three types of Earmarking: Agriculture (pets too), Politics and Finance
 
.
And then, there's the explanation I provided above.

.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home