MCCAINISTAN, PT 1… In a piece I wrote about Alaskan politics this summer, before McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, I mentioned Palin’s Troopergate flap briefly and dismissively. At the time, it looked like a relatively trifling matter–whether or not the Alaska legislature found her guilty, the whole thing paled in comparison to the truly spectacular scandals fouling the propellers of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young.

Needless to say, I was completely wrong. I still think that if Palin had come clean on the commissioner firing early on, it would’ve blown over pretty fast. Of course, that wasn’t what happened. Palin’s position on the investigation of her conduct has gone from cooperation to run-of-the-mill stonewalling to media intimidation to something far creepier: an apparent attempt by the McCain campaign to run Alaska’s executive branch.

The key figure here is Edward O’Callaghan, the former co-chief of the New York U.S. attorney’s office terrorism and national security unit, who left that post to join the McCain campaign in July. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff got into the details earlier this month, but essentially what happened is that O’Callaghan was brought in to advise Thomas Van Flein, a lawyer who is now employed directly by Palin but was previously on the state payroll. O’Callaghan, working via Van Flein, was the author of the plan to take the investigation into Palin’s conduct out of the legislature’s hands–where Palin had initially agreed to put it–and into those of the Alaska Personnel Board, which answers to the governor. (Weirdly, Isikoff observes, to make this happen Palin had to file an ethics complaint against herself.) In other words, a McCain staffer was possibly advising Alaska’s Department of Law and co-opting the state legislature. While this was happening, the state attorney general took a protracted vacation.

The Anchorage Press’s Brendan Joel Kelley sums up the current state of affairs:

Whether or not the Republican presidential ticket wins in November, Alaskans are already living in McCainistan. It seems Governor Palin and Attorney General Talis Colberg have simply abdicated their positions, leaving operatives from the McCain campaign in charge of the executive branch (including the Department of Law) while attempting to undermine the authority of the legislative branch.

Alaskans are mostly conservative, but of the libertarian variety. The thing they abhor above all else is meddling in their affairs by anyone from the Lower 48–usually referred to there as Down South or, more revealingly, Outside. So this hasn’t gone over well. Palin’s approval has dropped to 68 percent. Most governors would kill for those numbers, of course, but they’re still 20 points below her 2007 peak.

Some of the newly disenchanted are Democrats who are less than thrilled about the post-convention transformation of their once pragmatic and relatively non-partisan governor. But an ominous (for Palin) chunk is made up of unaffiliated voters. Anchorage pollster and strategist Ivan Moore, who conducted the poll, credits the McCainistan factor.

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