Palin's $2 million ethics meme in context

During my three-hour layover being sleepless (but very sleepy) in Seattle from 4 to 7 AM Alaska time this morning, I found myself thinking, now wait a minute. Let’s get some perspective here.

Throughout the last week’s hullabaloo about Palin’s resignation as governor and her insistent repetition of the narrative about $2 million and ethics and public records, etc., and the late nights I’ve spent doing my part to debunk this b.s. — during this same week in the daytime, I was working on production of the latest issue of the Alaska Justice Forum, the quarterly research publication put out by my employer, the Justice Center at University of Alaska Anchorage.  One of the articles this issue is on Alaska justice system operating expenses [Ref #1] — about the fourth such article we’ve done over the past few years.  The issue is at the printer’s now, & haven’t got it online yet, but see the last article we did on the topic in the Winter 2007 issue [Ref #2] — you’ll see that the figures we were dealing with there, involving the operating budgets of the major Alaska justice agencies, including the Departments of Corrections, Public Safety, and Law, are in the hundreds of millions, and the total state operating budget in the billions.  And Palin quit her job, so she claims, for figures that actually only reach $1.9 million, and only by padding and inflating the figures  through various artificial means?  Puts it somewhat into context, really.

But note how I phrased that above: her insistent repetition of the narrative about $2 million and ethics and public records, etc.

Narrative.  Yes.  It’s just a story she’s telling us.

Okay, so then I get to Spokane after a brief flight, sitting behind some young guy who even at that early time of morning had the smell of booze coming out the pores of his skin and wafting back at me as I tried to sleep… and then my sister picks me up at the airport, takes me home and makes me a tasty breakfast burrito and visits with me a bit before going to work, and then I look at some of the photos of our dad and mom that we are gathering here to remember this weekend, and then I think, I’ll do a quick check of my email and news and then go crash for some real sleep.

And saw an article that I absolutely had to read at Alaska Dispatch.  And I read it.

Now I’m asking you to go read it too, because it really put Palin’s 2 million dollar meme into context: not just as a comparison of budget figures, but as a story, one of the competing narratives about why Palin really quit.  It’s called “Palin: How she gained control and then lost it” by Donald Craig Mitchell [Ref #3], an Anchorage attorney who is also the author of two fundamental books on the political and legal history of Alaska Natives and their land (Sold American: The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land and Take My Land Take My Life: The Story of Congress’s Historic Settlement of Alaska Native Land Claims).  Mitchell’s article about Palin is also a history, in this case of Palin’s political career since her first run for statewide office.  It’s only by understanding the info Mitchell presents here that one can really understand what Palin’s narrative about why she quit is all about. Her $2 million dollar ethics complaints meme is really simply the excuse she was looking for to get out of a job she already wanted to get out of.

I’m not going to comment a lot here — because I still badly need to get some real sleep — but just pull out some relevant quotes.  Read them, then go read the full story.


In the interest of full disclosure, I represent Andree McLeod, a citizen-activist who, to hear Sarah tell it, has been one of Governor Palin’s principal tormentors, in two lawsuits. The first concerns Sarah and her senior staff’s intentional use of their private email accounts to conduct state business. The second concerns the question of whether the Governor’s Office waived the “deliberative process privilege” in the Alaska Public Records Act when Sarah decided to share confidential emails with her husband, Todd Palin, knowing when she did so that Todd, who works for British Petroleum, is not a state employee. [Ref #3]


What during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election Sarah will be is a Republican celebrity the way that Bill Clinton is a Democratic celebrity. Giving speeches in convention halls packed with true-believing party faithful and being fawned over by the network paparazzi will be a whole lot more fun, and way more profitable, than being a candidate. And it certainly will be more fun and way more profitable than being the Governor of a backwater state that is an hour’s drive from Wasilla to the Anchorage airport and then three-plus more hours of flight time from anywhere important.

Once Sarah made the easy decision that she would not run for reelection in 2010 so that during the two years prior to the 2012 presidential election she can be a full-time celebrity, the decision to become one immediately, rather than waiting another year and a half for her term as Governor to expire, was a no-brainer. [Ref #3]


Sarah Palin is a smart woman. So she knows that she is no more qualified to be Governor of Alaska than she was qualified to serve on the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. So even if she still needed the governorship, which she doesn’t, my bet is that, as she did when she was a member of the Commission, she would be looking for a way out.

For Commissioner Palin, the way out was to use her professed abhorrence of Randy Ruedrich’s ethical transgression as her excuse to leave a job she couldn’t handle. For Governor Palin, the way out is to use her professed abhorrence of the public’s purported misuse of the Alaska Ethics Act as her excuse to leave a job she can’t handle. [Ref #3]


During her news conference last Friday, Sarah called the ethics complaints that Andree McLeod and other Alaskans have filed against her over the past year “silly accusations” and she then bragged that “every one – all 15 (actually 18) of the ethics complaints have been dismissed. We’ve won!”

But neither of those assertions is true.

Some of the complaints were frivolous. But many others were not, including the complaint that a senior member of her staff unlawfully manipulated the state civil service system to obtain a job for a Palin campaign supporter, the complaint that Sarah used state money to transport her children to events they had no official reason to be at, the complaint that two members of her staff spent time during their work day in the Governor’s Office attending to Sarah’s political interests, the complaint that Sarah has been unlawfully collecting per diem for living at home in Wasilla using the ruse that she lives in the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau when everyone – including all of Juneau – knows that she never really has, and, most importantly, the ethics complaint that Sarah filed last September against herself as part of the Troopergate scandal in order to have the Attorney General investigate whether she had ordered Walt Monegan, her Commissioner of Public Safety, to fire her former brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper. [Ref #3]

Okay, that’s enough.  Go read the rest of Mitchell’s article.  And I’ll go catch some shuteye.

Related posts

There’s several of them: follow the tag Palin ethics complaints.


  1. Spring 2009 (forthcoming). “Justice System Operating Expenses” by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 26(1): 2–3.
  2. Winter 2007. “Justice System Operating Expenditures” by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 23(4): 1, 10-11.
  3. 7/9/09. “Palin: How she gained control and then lost it” by Donald Craig Mitchell (Alaska Dispatch).
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