Frustrated, Palin to quit oil panel job

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services

Editor's note: This story was originally published January 17, 2004

Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Chairwoman Sarah Palin said Friday she is resigning amid frustration that she is being forced to keep silent about ethics allegations against Republican Party of Alaska chairman Randy Ruedrich.

"I'm forced to withhold information from Alaskans, and that goes against what I believe in as a public servant," Palin said in a Friday interview.

Ruedrich, reached on his cell phone, wouldn't discuss Palin's resignation.

Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed both Ruedrich and Palin to the state commission last spring. In November, Ruedrich resigned the $118,000 commission job in the face of mounting criticism that his job and his party position presented a conflict of interest.

As a top party official he was raising political funds from the same industries he regulated as a commissioner. In addition, allegations surfaced that Ruedrich was doing party business while he was on the state job as an oil and gas commissioner.

Palin has deflected numerous questions from the press about the Ruedrich affair in recent weeks. The Alaska Department of Law has told her that she cannot talk about the ethics allegations against Ruedrich, even after she resigns.

Palin said frustration over the gag order made her conclude it was time to quit, but she said it wasn't the only reason. She wouldn't detail what else contributed to her decision.

She said her last day on the $122,400 job will be sometime next week.

Last month, the Daily News made a formal public records request to obtain e-mails that could show whether Rued-rich directed the Republican Party of Alaska out of his office. Palin responded with a letter denying the request. It said the records must be kept confidential under state law.

Neither she nor the state's lawyers would give a specific reason under the law that required the e-mails be kept confidential.

That could signal that Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes is investigating Ruedrich. On Friday Renkes responded to questions about Palin's resignation by releasing a two-page description of ethics law.

"The Ethics Act requires that all matters related to (an) investigation ... remain confidential," it said.

Renkes has refused to confirm he is investigating Ruedrich, saying it would be illegal to acknowledge the existence of an investigation. Palin said that one of her frustrations is that she cannot even tell the public if there is an investigation.

"I'd like to find a hero in the Legislature who can take on and change that law and make it more sensible," she said.

Palin said it was hard to do her job with potential civil penalties hanging over her head if she talked about what went on at her agency. She said the experience was taking the "oomph" out of her passion for government service and she decided to quit rather than becoming bitter.

Palin is a former mayor of Wasilla. She made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination in the 2002 election and has been discussed as a possible challenger to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Palin said Friday her decision to leave the commission had nothing to do with such matters.

Palin said she has not discounted running against Murkowski but is leaning against it. The Republican Party is backing Murkowski with money and endorsements, she said. Palin said she has no immediate employment plans.

Dan Seamount is now the lone remaining member of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. He said Friday that he was sad to see Palin go but would not comment about the Ruedrich affair.

Gov. Murkowski issued a brief statement in response to her resignation, saying "she has done a fine job" as commissioner. His office is looking for people to fill the two empty seats on the three-person commission.

Palin said she doesn't blame the governor for what happened. But she has suggestions for the future of the oil and gas commission: "No more political appointments," she said.

Anchorage Daily News