By WILLIAM YARDLEY
Published: September 13, 2008
ANCHORAGE — In voting to issue a subpoena to Todd Palin in an investigation of the firing of the Alaska public safety commissioner, state lawmakers on Friday signaled that Mr. Palin, the husband of Gov. Sarah Palin, might have played a central role in one of the most contentious episodes of her governorship.
Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska and her husband, Todd, who has played a central role in many aspects of her administration.
While that suggestion goes beyond the image presented of Mr. Palin during the Republican convention as a blue-collar family man and sportsman, it echoes a widely held understanding among lawmakers, state employees and lobbyists about Mr. Palin’s heavy engagement in state government.
In the small circle of advisers close to the governor, these people say, Mr. Palin is among the closest, and he plays an unpaid but central role in many aspects of the administration of Ms. Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president.
Mr. Palin’s involvement in the governor’s office has prompted an irreverent quip by some capital staff members when decisions are to be made that might affect the governor: “What would Todd do?”
Mr. Palin has encouraged lawmakers to support his wife’s agenda, helped her review budget items and polish speeches, surprised some lawmakers by sitting in on meetings and received copies of top administration staff e-mail messages.
Mr. Palin also has stepped into personnel issues that have personal relevance, most notably his contact with Walt Monegan, then the public safety commissioner, to express concern about the continued employment of a state trooper who had gone through a bitter divorce and custody battle with the governor’s sister. Mr. Monegan was later fired, and it is that firing that prompted the vote Friday on the subpoena.
Mr. Palin was not made available for comment, but he has denied doing anything improper in the firing of Mr. Monegan.
It is not necessarily clear whether Mr. Palin is helping shape his wife’s agenda or simply advocating for it, nor whether he ever put pressure on lawmakers, but his role has not been the customary one of a governor’s spouse in Alaska.
That has made many people in government uncomfortable and often confused over how to react.
“My colleagues told me he was lobbying for the governor’s position on oil taxes,” State Representative Jay Ramras, a Republican who is chairman of the House judiciary committee, said of one instance last year when he saw Mr. Palin outside the legislative chamber before a key vote. “I think that when the spouse of an elected governor steps away from safe issues that are nonpartisan in nature, that it is bad for the legislative and executive branches, and Todd Palin would not be an exception to that.”
A spokeswoman for the governor, Sharon Leighow, said that she did not know whether Mr. Palin advocated for his wife’s policy agenda but that he had actively promoted work force development issues, an issue he expressed interest in from the beginning of the administration.
At one point early in his wife’s administration, Mr. Palin called John Harris, the speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, to encourage him to be vocal in his support of an effort to move the State Legislature from remote Juneau closer to Anchorage. The Palins live about 45 miles from Anchorage.
“He’s very supportive of doing that,” Mr. Harris said, “and he wanted me to be supportive of it.”
Several lawmakers have said Mr. Palin was present in the governor’s office when they had what they had expected to be private meetings with her and her staff. The lawmakers say Mr. Palin rarely spoke and sometimes sat off to the side, perhaps working on a computer.
Other people close to the state budget process said Mr. Palin was in the room at times when his wife and aides discussed whether to veto specific items in the capital-spending budget, including money to improve the harbor in Mr. Palin’s hometown, Dillingham. Money for the harbor project was approved.
Ms. Leighow said Mr. Palin was not scheduled as a participant in meetings with staff or lawmakers but that it was possible, though “unusual,” that he could have been present during some meetings.
Mr. Palin, 44, has participated in at least one meeting of the state’s Workforce Investment Board and joined state labor officials on a tour of a major mine in interior Alaska as well as of training facilities at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, in Canada. He also joined state officials for a flight over a proposed route for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope; the pipeline has been his wife’s top policy goal.
Several lawmakers made a point in interviews of saying how much they admired Mr. Palin’s diverse accomplishments and knowledge of state issues, even as they were struck by his frequent presence.
Generally viewed as genial and reserved, Mr. Palin juggles his involvement in his wife’s administration with his two-week shifts as an oil production operator on the North Slope. In the summers, he also works as a commercial salmon fisherman, using a set-net on the shore of the Nushagak River near Bristol Bay.