â€œEven Palinâ€™s own mother-in-law, Faye Palin, said that she doesnâ€™t agree with Sarah on anything and that the only reason McCain selected her is because sheâ€™s a woman,â€ Stambaugh noted. â€œI think that pretty much says it all. I certainly wouldnâ€™t want her to have the nuclear codes to our countryâ€™s defense system.â€
[Black Star News Exclusive: Election 2008]
While the national press is apparently giving Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin a free pass regarding the many and varied skeletons in her closet during her short, yet checkered, political career as a small-town mayor and small-state governor, an extensive pattern of administrative misconduct and political grandstanding by Palin is slowly emerging from the small, often insulated communities of the so-called “Last Frontier.”
It does not a pretty picture make.
Ever since she was first elected to her hometown Wasilla city council in 1992, Palin’s political career has been marked by controversy and petty political infighting.
Currently under a state ethics investigation for the firing of Alaska state police chief Walt Monegan—a process in which Palin has clearly lied and attempted an extensive administrative cover-up—Palin has a record of controversial dismissals dating back to her days as mayor of Wasilla and for which she faced a political recall. One of those controversies surrounded the firing of Wasilla police chief Irl Stambaugh.
Reached at a remote cabin in Alaska, Stambaugh, 59, a lifelong police officer with a distinguished 30-year career, described Palin’s administrative style as being based on “fear and retribution. That’s how she operates.”
In 1993, Stambaugh, then a Captain of the Patrol Division of the Anchorage Police Department, was selected over several other candidates to serve as Wasilla’s first Chief of Police. By all accounts, he developed a sterling reputation in the small town north of Anchorage in the Mat-Su Valley, with a population then of little more than 5,000. Palin was then serving her first of two terms on the City Council.
“Wasilla is a pretty quiet place,” Stambaugh noted in an exclusive interview with The Black Star News. “Not a lot of crime. Pretty laid back.” But he did notice a spike in drunk driving during the late morning hours—between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., when Wasilla’s bars were required to close for merely an hour.
As had been the case in Anchorage during his tenure on the police force there, Stambaugh supported closing down Wasilla’s bars at 2 a.m.
Ignoring the public safety issues underlying Stambaugh’s recommendation, Palin, then a city council member, placed her finger to the political winds and sided with the bar owners and late-night bar patrons who opposed the change in operating hours.
When Palin was elected as Wasilla’s mayor in 1996, Stambaugh immediately found himself at odds with the ambitious, often self-aggrandizing Palin. Indeed, Palin, who was photographed carrying a sign declaring “Law Enforcement for McCain” when she was introduced to the nation this past week in Ohio, actually has a lengthy record of opposing law enforcement officials in Alaska.
When the Alaska legislature proposed expanding Alaska’s already liberal laws to include carrying concealed weapons in schools, banks and bars, Stambaugh and several other Alaska police chiefs opposed the legislation. “We were simply applying common sense to the use of guns,” Stambaugh noted. “Even in the Old West, you left your guns at the door. Guns and booze don’t mix.”
But Palin saw the opportunity to placate extremists in the National Rifle Association supporting the expansion into schools, banks and bars, and publicly supported the legislation. When then governor, Tony Knowles, sided with law enforcement officials and vetoed the NRA-sponsored legislation, Palin came to Stambaugh and let him know that she didn’t think it was his right to oppose her on political issues.
Once Palin was elected Mayor of Wasilla, she dropped the hammer on Stambaugh.
While to Stambaugh’s face she told him that he was doing “a wonderful job” and assured the police chief that she “was not going to fire him,” two weeks after the last assurance Stambaugh came into his office and found a letter telling him not to come back the next day.
So, too, did Wasilla Librarian Mary Ellen Emmons, who recoiled against Palin’s attempts at censoring books on the library’s shelves.
She also asked for the resignation of Wasilla’s Public Works Director, John Felton, who was replaced by Palin with her political crony Cindy Roberts, who had no engineering background but had extensive Republican Party connections.
By all accounts, these were professional and dedicated public servants who had simply refused to kowtow to Palin’s extremist right-wing dictates.
A group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Wasilla threatened a recall against Palin.
Stambaugh, who by all accounts had nothing to do with the recall effort, said that it was eventually deterred, in part, because Palin agreed to reinstate Emmons but, more importantly, because of Palin’s reputation of political vengeance and retribution. “People had to worry about their standing in the community,” he noted. “They had to worry about their jobs, their businesses, their careers, their families.”
Stambaugh eventually sued, but lost after a lengthy three-year court battle which found that Palin had the right to fire city department heads at will.
Stambaugh then took a job in Bosnia, working for the U.N. peacekeeping team there, before returning to serve as Executive Director of Alaska’s Police Standards Council.
Now retired, and an avid fisherman, Stambaugh is happy to be out of the political fray. But he is concerned about Palin’s selection to serve as McCain’s running mate, though not surprised.
“Sarah is extremely media savvy and has always been good at promoting herself,” said Stambaugh. “McCain was obviously looking for a female candidate, someone who was different, new—a fresh face. There’s been a lot of excitement generated around the novelty of it.”
Stambaugh, a big bear of a man at 6’2” and 260 pounds, is not buying any of it. “Those of us who have worked with her know better,” he declared.
Apparently, McCain, did not do a lot of vetting Palin’s political past prior to her last-minute selection. No one from McCain’s office called Stambaugh, who served a tour of duty in Vietnam following the Tet Offensive in 1968.
“Even Palin’s own mother-in-law, Faye Palin, said that she doesn’t agree with Sarah on anything and that the only reason McCain selected her is because she’s a woman,” Stambaugh noted. “I think that pretty much says it all. I certainly wouldn’t want her to have the nuclear codes to our country’s defense system.”
As for her administrative style working in the White House, Stambaugh observed: “I’m not sure if she’d be able to get away with it in Washington. There might be more exposure and scrutiny. But she’s certainly not one to change her ways.”
Black Star News political columnist Geoffrey Dunn, Ph. D., is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist; he is the former recipient of both a John L. Senior Fellowship to the Cornell University Graduate School of Government and a National Newspaper Association Award for Investigative Journalism. His most recent film is Calypso Dreams.