The Blog

Updated: Quit Happens; Sarah Palin's Constitutional Train Wreck

For some reason, nothing is simple in Alaska. The state sits on the edge of a constitutional crisis because of the "chain of command vacuum" created by the governor's abrupt resignation.
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When Senator Bill Wielechowski came on my radio program this week, he dropped a bomb I wasn't ready for; in order for Alaska to avoid a constitutional crisis, "The real for the governor to say...'I will withhold my resignation until the legislature can meet.'"

Dead air...please explain, Senator.

Wielechowski pointed out that this was the first summer in years that the legislature was not called into a special session. Lawmakers made plans. Plans to fish, plans to visit friends and relatives Outside, plans to just enjoy an Alaskan Summer. Getting everyone together prior to July 25 (Palin's last day as governor) is almost next to impossible ("...we estimate we can (meet) first-second week in August...").

For some reason, nothing seems simple in Alaska. It would seem with the governor's resignation, the Lieutenant Governor, Sean Parnell, could simply take his seat. The appointed third-in-line would then slip into Sean's chair and we could get back to business.

Sorry. According to both parties, Alaska sits on the edge of a constitutional crisis because of the "chain of command vacuum" created by the governor's abrupt resignation.

The perfect storm of events lined up on February 6, 2009. Senate Resolution 5 passed 16 - 1. It found Todd Palin and the governor's aides guilty of contempt of the State of Alaska Senate. Their refusal to co-operate with subpoenas during the Branchflower Investigation came with no penalties; just the finding. Four days later, Attorney General Talis Colberg resigned. Colberg purportedly advised those found in contempt to ignore their subpoenas.

In February 2007, Palin appointed her AG, Talis Colberg, to serve as successor to the Lieutenant Governor. The legislative body confirmed him. His resignation called for not only a new AG, but a new successor as well.

On April 16, the nomination of Wayne Anthony Ross for AG was defeated after a long, controversial hearing. Commissioner of Corrections, Joe Schmidt was confirmed as "third in line" in the event the governor or lieutenant governor were unable to fulfill their duties.

Hey, great, constitutional obligations met! Not so fast...

When the governor resigned, Joe Schmidt, who had lobbied for the job and sent thank you notes to those who voted for him, decided "Thanks, but no thanks." Schmidt, a high school friend of Palin's, was a controversial nomination after a 514-19 vote of "no confidence" by the Alaska Correctional Officers Association in 2008. Their lack of confidence had to do with cover up of a contagious bacterial infection, MRSA, among prisoners and guards. In May, the ACOA filed a lawsuit against Sarah Palin's administration for purposefully dragging its feet in getting the legislature to appropriate pay increases, thereby sabotaging new contract arbitration.

It's hard to know why Mr. Schmidt declined his previously sought duty, but a replacement was named by the governor quickly; Alaska National Guard Lieutenant General Craig Campbell.

Last August, just days after Sarah Palin's VP nomination, then Major General Campbell told the AP the governor had no control over the Alaska Air National Guard. He continued breaking down the meme of her experience in an interview with the Boston Globe. Two days later, on Friday, September 8, Campbell flip-flopped on Fox news. He sang the governor's praises. The following Monday, Palin promoted him to Lieutenant General in the Alaska National Guarda rank only recognized in Alaska. Now she has promoted him for his loyalty again; this time to Lieutenant Governor.

Here is where the constitutional crisis has a head on.

With Palin's resignation, Joe Schmidt declining the Lt. Gov job, and Mr. Campbell not being confirmed by the legislative body...we are left with one leader, Sean Parnell, and no spares. According to the Constitution we have to have a spare. The only way to get a spare is to have a special session and confirm Mr. Campbell. Palin's newest attorney general appointee, Dan Sullivan, formerly of the Bush Administration, supports the unconfirmed succession of Mr. Campbell. Mr. Sullivan has yet to be confirmed by the legislature.

Oooh, lucky us! An oh-so-special session! Wait!

Governor Palin's $28.6 million veto of federal stimulus funds for energy assistance and weatherization is on the desk waiting for next year's session to start. The legislature has 5 days to override the governor's veto, or forfeit it. The decision was made not to have a special session to flip her decision-not for the lack of votes, but because of the expense.

As more information rolls out, Palin's excuses for leaving office become weaker. The ethics complaints were to blame. "Millions of dollars" have been sifted down to less than $300,000-$296,042.58 to be exact. The ethics complaint Palin filed on herself in a political attempt to derail the Branchflower Investigation cost the state $187,797. That means all of the other complaints combined cost the state $108,245.58. But wait, Alaskan Frank Gwartney's "travelgate" complaint forced Palin to cough up $8,143.62 back to the state coffers. So the net cost of all of the ethics complaints, excluding Palin's expensive political stunt, was $101,101.84.

On June 26, 2007, a joint special session was called to fund a program for low income seniors. The cost of the one day meeting? $103,500.

Here's the rub; Governor Palin aborting her term will end up costing Alaskans more than all of the non-Palin ethics complaints combined. Former legislators I spoke with estimated this session would cost somewhere north of $150,000. $150,000 just to sort out her mess! Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers I've talked to see this "July Surprise" as an expensive constitutional train wreck. Most are projecting the session needing at least a few days.

Let's do the math:
Branchflower Report: $75,000 (Legislative investigation that found Sarah Palin guilty of abuse of power.)
Palin's own ethics complaint: $187,245.58 (A political tactic filed in an attempt to de-rail the Branchflower Report.)
Special Session (Low estimate):$150,000
PALIN'S cost to the State of Alaska? $402,245.58
"FRIVOLOUS ETHICS COMPLAINERS" cost to the State of Alaska? $101,101.84

Maybe we need to start AlaskaPAC.

If the solution to averting a constitutional crisis is for Sarah Palin to stay on as governor for a few weeks, as one Democratic Senator suggested on my radio show, Alaska should be a reality show. "Help, I'm A Celebrity Governor, Get Me Out Of Here!"

UPDATE: Lieutenant Governor, and soon to be governor, Sean Parnell signed a letter naming Lieutenant General (rank only applies in AK) Craig E. Campbell as his temporary substitute effective upon Lieutenant Governor Parnell's succession to the Office of Governor July 26.

Parnell called it a "win-win approach to ensuring a clear and secure line of succession to the office of lieutenant governor."

Parnell is relying on the opinion of the acting attorney general, Dan Sullivan released last week, showing neither party understands the constitutional requirements for succession. Sullivan's opinion is non-binding and in conflict with those of legislative legal. It makes no difference if Palin or Parnell appoints the replacement for Lt. Gov. if the legislature hasn't voted to confirm the nomination. A third successor has yet to be named.

Potential crisis not averted by Parnell's letter. Word of a special session is yet to be finalized.

The new, unofficial Alaska motto: Quit Happens.