Once she had annoyed the Left and sparked a media vendetta against her during the 2008 presidential campaign, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was a marked woman. She had made some serious ethical missteps in the handling of her ex-brother-in-law’s employment with the state, but most of the ethics complaints made against her—there were over twenty-five—were pure harassment, generated by political foes. Unfortunately, Alaska has previously responded to its long history of official corruption by establishing a system that allowed any citizen to file an ethics complaint against a governor and trigger an investigation, leaving the targeted official to foot the bill. Nothing in the procedure prevented frivolous or malicious complaints, and that’s what most of what the complaints against Palin were.
Now, as of December 22, the law has changed. Now the state will pay the expenses incurred by an official defending against a baseless ethics complaint. Palin resigned as governor in part because the time and expense involved in fighting the wave of ethics complaints had become overwhelming. Would she have resigned under the new system? Would she have become such a force in American politics and culture if she had stayed in Alaska, doing the mundane work of governing rather than becoming a speaker/gadfly/author/ commentator/ reality star? Would Bristol Palin have been inflicted on America by “Dancing With the Stars”? Would Sarah Palin be frightening Republicans as a real threat to win the presidential nomination, as she is now?
We will never know. What we do know, however, is that a careless law designed to keep Alaskan officials honest was used unethically as a means of political warfare, and resulted in an ethically-shaky politician with great personal appeal to many being let loose on the whole nation, with the final outcome much in doubt.
It’s good that you fixed the law, Alaska, but let’s be more careful in the future, all right?