Levi Johnston quits oil field job

PUBLIC SCRUTINY: Rules say he needs diploma for apprenticeship.

January 5, 2009 

Levi Johnston, the boyfriend of Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol, has quit his North Slope oil field job over questions about his eligibility to work in an electrical apprenticeship program, Johnston's father said Monday.

Johnston, 18, began working this fall in the Milne Point oil field with ASRC Energy Services Inc., a major Slope contractor.

In a Sunday newspaper column, Anchorage radio talk show host Dan Fagan questioned how Johnston could take part in ASRC's apprenticeship program without a high school diploma.

Fagan said he understood federal regulations require all members of apprenticeship programs to have a diploma. He also questioned whether the governor might have had a hand in getting Johnston into the program.

Palin adamantly denied that Monday.

Johnston's father, Keith Johnston, said the governor had nothing to do with getting Levi the Slope job. Keith Johnston said his own position as an ASRC construction engineer accounts for any help his son received in landing work.

Both Palin and the elder Johnston added that the governor's husband, Todd Palin, himself a Slope worker for BP, likewise had no involvement with getting Levi the ASRC job.

But due to the media attention surrounding the matter, Johnston said he and his son conferred Monday and Levi decided to resign and concentrate on his education.

"He felt it was the best thing to do to kind of calm the waters, so to speak," Keith Johnston said. Levi was flying home from the Slope late Monday, he said.

Johnston said his son always struggled with school and never got his diploma.

When Levi realized last year that he and the governor's daughter Bristol were going to be parents -- Bristol gave birth to a baby boy on Dec. 27 -- Keith Johnston said he counseled his son to start work on a GED and to apply for jobs.

Levi is mechanically inclined and since age 8 has tagged along with his dad on house-building and wiring jobs, Keith Johnston said.

In early September, Levi finally landed a job as a roustabout on an ASRC project in Valdez, Johnston said.

Levi did well, showed a good attitude and didn't complain about working in the weather, he said.

After that job ended and layoffs started coming, ASRC offered him a choice of two other positions, one in Cook Inlet and another through the electrical apprenticeship program in the Milne Point oil field, Johnston said.

Levi took the Milne Point gig starting around the first of November. He also decided it would be better to work online toward a regular high school diploma than to seek a GED, his father said.

As for the requirement of a high school diploma to be in the apprenticeship program, Keith Johnston said, "It's just something that slipped through the cracks." He said the lack of a diploma wasn't something that managers at ASRC caught and neither he nor Levi gave it much thought.

But now, Levi figures it's best to leave the job and pursue his education, Keith Johnston said. Levi's not eligible for the apprenticeship program without the diploma, he said.

"You guys are watching him so tightly," Johnston said, referring to the media. "He's being treated different than an average 18-year-old kid. He has to do everything by the book now."

He added: "Sarah had nothing to do with him getting hired on the Slope. If there was any help getting him on up there, it was because of my associations and no one else's."

Levi and Bristol gained national celebrity in early September when they stood onstage with Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., where Palin accepted the nomination to campaign as John McCain's vice presidential running mate.

Palin, in an interview Monday, said she considered Fagan's column "a political potshot taken at me," one that threatens to "destroy a young man's opportunity for work."

She denied helping Levi gain employment directly at ASRC. However, Palin said she wrote him -- and plenty of other youths who have asked -- a generic, "To whom it may concern" letter of support.

The June 23, 2008, letter for Levi says in part: "I have known Levi and his family for many years and am most impressed with Levi's work ethic. Levi is organized, efficient, extremely competent, and will prove to be an excellent employee. Also, Levi's physical strength and determination are assets that will be useful to your company."

ASRC spokespersons declined to comment on Levi Johnston directly, citing employee privacy.

In a written statement, the company said its electrical apprenticeship program eligibility requirements include a high school diploma or equivalent, "but this is not a requirement mandated by the federal government."

The statement also says, "The information provided by the applicant to the company is relied upon to be true and correct."

Keith Johnston said his son never told ASRC he had a high school education when he really didn't. Rather, he said, the lack of a diploma was something that was simply overlooked as Levi transferred from the Valdez job to the Slope job.

Fagan, who also maintains a journalistic Web site, said Monday he wasn't out to take potshots at the governor.

"I'm just doing my job," he said.

Find Wesley Loy online at adn.com/contact/wloy or call 257-4590.