I hate to interrupt the glee over the approval of Gov. Palin's pipeline proposal, but there is some other news out of Alaska that I feel obligated to address. Today, former Anchorage prosecutor Steve Branchflower was appointed to conduct an investigation into Gov. Palin's dismissal of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. While I join Gov. Palin in welcoming this investigation, I also share her concern that it may not be unbiased. In fact, I see numerous reasons to question why Mr. Branchflower was even considered for this post, let alone hired.
Don't get me wrong, he seems like a stand-up guy from what I'm reading, but his resume (posted by the Anchorage Daily News) casts serious doubt on whether the legislators who hired him really wanted a fair investigation. Branchflower, who served as an Assistant District Attorney in Anchorage from 1974-1998, held numerous positions which required him to work extremely closely with the Anchorage Police Department, where Walt Monegan would become chief in 2001. He provided legal advice to APD officers, trained APD officers, and was even a co-founder of the APD's Homicide Response Team. His wife also worked as a detective for the APD, not retiring until 2002, meaning that she worked under Walt Monegan. In short, it seems impossible to believe that Branchflower, whose entire career was wrapped up in his relationships with the APD, and his detective wife did not have at least some professional relationship with Walt Monegan, who was obviously one of the city's top cops. Mrs. Branchflower also briefly came out of retirement to work as a cold case detective for the Alaska State Troopers.
Now, I want to make it very clear that I have absolutely no desire to besmirch the good names of Mr. or Mrs. Branchflower. Both seem to have been exemplary public servants. However, the appointment of an investigator with such close ties to the Anchorage PD is puzzling considering that the case revolves around the firing of the state's leading cop (and a former APD chief) . Branchflower's appointment does nothing to assuage the fears of those who were worried that the legislature would attempt to use this issue to launch a biased and unjustified witch hunt. If Investigator Branchflower wants the public to take him seriously, he needs to start by answering one big question: What (if any) relationship did he have with Walt Monegan in Anchorage and how does he intend to remain unbiased in investigating his wife's former boss?
That said, my bigger question is not for Branchflower but for the legislators who dragged him into this mess: are there not qualified lawyers in Alaska who can't be easily linked to a party in the investigation? What was your vetting process, and was it designed to find a truly unbiased investigator or just someone who you thought was likely to go along with an unfounded effort to lynch the governor? If it was the latter, I certainly hope that Mr. Branchflower proves you wrong.
And now for the biggest question: does the Alaskan media have the guts to ask tough questions of anyone other than Sarah Palin?