Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Troopergate" a great opportunity

The so-called Troopergate investigation report, released Friday by a panel in Alaska, is the best thing to happen to the McCain-Palin campaign since the Arizona maverick chose the Alaskan hockey Mom as his running mate.

Republicans should embrace it as a way of telling the story of why government must be reformed. It is the perfect picture of how government bureaucracies shield the incompetent and immoral among them, and waste taxpayer dollars trying to nail concerned citizens who cry 'foul'.

The investigation, dubbed Troopergate in the same imaginative way that every scandal since Watergate has been appended with a 'gate', ostensibly had nothing to do with a State Trooper, but with a member of Gov. Palin's cabinet whom she tried to re-assign to other duties after he refused to get on board with her administration's agenda.

In addition to his budget differences with the Palin administration Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan inexplicably failed to fire state trooper Mike Wooten who had Tasered a 10-year-old boy, drank beer in his squad car and illegally gunned down a moose. Mr. Wooten happens to be the former brother-in-law of Gov. Palin. The investigator, Stephen Branchflower, who earned a $100,000 for his probing, found that the governor failed to restrain her husband from pushing for the trooper's dismissal. This inaction on her part Mr. Branchflower labeled "abuse of power" although his report acknowledged she did nothing wrong in dismissing Mr. Monegan.

Trooper Wooten, by the way, is still Trooper Wooten.

Now, the normal way to handle such a non-scandal in politics would be for McCain-Palin to claim that Gov. Palin was exonerated of wrongdoing in the removal of Mr. Monegan, and to brand the probe as political shenanigans. This, of course, is what the campaign as thus far done.

However, if I were whispering in Sen. McCain's ear, I'd tell him to grab this bull by the horns and give it a shake.

Trooper Wooten's continued presence on the force illustrates the near-impossibility of removing bad apples from government. Even the governor can't get a guy fired who has violated the law and his obligation to uphold it. Think about this: a cop Tasered his own nephew, presumably until the child cried 'Uncle'...and he's still a cop.

Sarah and Todd Palin knew of Mr. Wooten's character since they had first-hand knowledge of his divorce from her sister -- a proceeding the media passively and euphemistically calls 'messy'. The media storyline is that the governor and the 'First Dude', blinded by familial love, tried to bring down Mr. Wooten to get revenge for the pain he caused their sister. The hunting violation, the drinking violation and the electrocution of the child get mentioned in passing, as if these were expected behaviors of law enforcement officials and not significant factors in Mr. Wooten's ongoing qualifications to protect and serve.

Frankly, Trooper Wooten's behavior gives a black eye to the entire Alaska state police force. After all, if such a man is allowed to keep his badge, what other kinds of criminals daily strap on a state-issued sidearm to enforce the law at which they personally scoff. If you were Sarah or Todd Palin, would you not do everything in your power to get this guy fired?

But instead of confiscating his gun and his badge, the state embarks on an investigation of the whistleblowers -- the Palins. The state spends $100,000 of the taxpayer's money to hire an investigator to probe whether the governor abused her power.

Abused her power? Sounds to me like Alaska's chief executive has no power. She can't re-assign a member of her own cabinet without sparking an investigation. She can't even get a low-level state employee fired who has violated his code of conduct and the law at least three times.

And this is just a snapshot of the kind of mediocrity and malfeasance that government fosters and perpetuates.

Anyone with an ordinary sense of justice would conclude that Trooper Wooten should have been removed from the force long ago.

"My friends," Sen. McCain should say, "Sarah Palin and I are going to Washington to end the culture of inside dealing, empire building, incompetence and corruption that takes money from your pocket and makes a mockery of the rule of law. We're not just going to pluck out a few obvious bad apples, we're going to upset the apple cart."

Then Sen. McCain should overtly draw a connection between this case and the current global financial quagmire.

It's this kind of capital crime culture -- infesting capitol buildings from Juneau to Washington D.C. -- that makes it possible for Congress to cause an economic crisis, and then to spend your money on phony investigations in an effort to blame someone else. Meanwhile, the real criminals continue to drive around in tax-funded cars drawing tax-funded paychecks. This, my friends, is abuse of power, and somebody has to stop it before it undermines the foundations of our Constitutional Republic.

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