From Sean Cockerham in Anchorage --
It's not uncommon for Gov. Sarah Palin's husband, Todd, to be included on governor's office e-mails, a fact raising questions about how much influence the "First Dude" has in state government.
Palin critics recently put in a public records request for the state e-mails that Palin special assistant Ivy Frye and Frank Bailey, the governor's director of boards and commissions, sent this spring. They were trying to find proof the staffers had worked on state time to try and get Randy Ruedrich replaced as chair of the state Republican Party. They hadn't found any, last I spoke to them, but were still going through the boxes of e-mails.
Much of the Frye/Bailey e-mail traffic, though, was either blacked out or denied altogether by the state on the basis of "deliberative process" or "privacy/personnel." (UPDATE: Andrew Halcro, on his blog, has posted the whole spreadsheet listing the e-mails that were denied, with subject lines, recipients and dates.)
That includes many e-mails Todd Palin exchanged with members of the governor's staff - e-mails with subject lines like "re: PSEA (Public Safety Employees of Alaska) Ads", "re: PR campaign" and "re: Parental consent abortion bill." It's impossible to know what they are about, since the state refuses to say.
Those who made the requests plan to appeal the denial, arguing among other things that e-mails can't be kept from the public because of executive "deliberative process" if Todd Palin, who is not a state employee, is being copied on them.
"I don't know why (Todd) is being copied on everything," said Zane Henning, who made the public records request on behalf of the Last Frontier Foundation, which Henning described as a conservative group from the Mat-Su Valley
Andree McLeod of Anchorage, who separately put in a public records request for the same e-mails, also questioned Todd Palin's involvement. Here's a sampling of some of the e-mails copied to Todd.
Todd Palin has been in the news lately with fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan saying Todd tried to pressure him to fire a state trooper who went through a bitter divorce with the governor's sister. Todd Palin has said the family was concerned the trooper was a threat to the governor's safety but that he never told Monegan to fire the trooper.
Todd Palin is now on the North Slope working his job as an operator for BP and I haven't been able to talk to him about the e-mails. Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said she couldn't speak to specific e-mails to Todd Palin from members of the governor's staff, since the state found them not to be public record.
But here's her statement:
"As First Gentleman, the governor was telling me that, at their home in Wasilla, they are inundated with phone calls and e-mails to their personal accounts, and Todd does pass that information on to the governor. And vice versa. The governor works with a Blackberry and she forwards e-mails to Todd to print off because she likes to have a hard copy in front of her," Leighow said.
I asked her about e-mails between Todd Palin and members of the governor's staff. Leighow replied in an e-mail "that it would not be uncommon for Todd to pass along information he receives on his personal e-mail account. It would also not be uncommon for him to pass along e-
mails and become part of a string."
Former state legislator Andrew Halcro, a fierce Palin critic who lost to her in the 2006 race for governor, cited the e-mails in a post on his blog about Todd Palin entitled "Shadow Governor?"
One of the e-mail strings the state wouldn't release to the public for "deliberative process/executive" reasons had the subject line "re: Andrew Halcro."
The e-mail string began with a 7:41 a.m. e-mail on Feb. 1 from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell to Sarah Palin. Parnell included Todd Palin in the next e-mail about it, and he was included in the rest of the string.
Halcro's "Shadow Governor? " blog post also dealt with John Bitney, who was fired as Palin's legislative liaison and now works for House Speaker John Harris. Halcro wrote that "in June of 2007, it became known that Bitney was dating the soon to be ex-wife of Todd Palin's good friend. Palin reportedly began demanding that Bitney be fired."
Anchorage state Rep. Mike Hawker told me today that "everything I have read in Andrew Halcro's blog post is consistent with conversations I have had with Mr. Bitney." Hawker said he doesn't know how much influence Todd Palin has.
When I spoke to Bitney, he didn't want to discuss the specifics of his firing, saying it was personal. Bitney said he doesn't know what role Todd Palin played in his dismissal but "I don't hold anything against the Palins. I understood why I had to go."
Bitney, when speaking of Todd Palin's overall influence within the Palin administration, said "I don't know if his involvement was more or less appropriate or more or less than any other governor's spouse."
"He's the husband of the governor. So I don't know how to quantify that. When I saw him in the office, he's usually there because he's the dad and they have children and kids needs to be picked up and stuff. In my view most of this is just people who have political disagreements with the governor," Bitney said.
House Majority Leader Ralph Samuels told me Todd Palin was present at the only meeting Samuels ever personally set up with the governor. Samuels said it "was a little unusual, I didn't think it was a big deal." Samuels said Todd Palin was never at any of the House-Senate leadership meetings held with the governor.