ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has had far better weeks than this one, full of political distractions that no candidate wants two months before voters head to the polls.
Parnell, a Republican who has been in office since Sarah Palin quit in 2009, appeared he might cruise to a November win because his two opponents, Democrat Byron Mallott and independent Bill Walker, would split the anti-Parnell vote.
But the week started Tuesday with the stunning announcement that they would merge their campaigns, with Walker at the top of the ticket and Mallott in the No. 2 spot.
The realization that his re-election bid just got a lot more difficult was just the first of several headaches for Parnell.
Parnell's staff blamed a third-party vendor for errantly sending a campaign email blast to state workers, a potential campaign violation.
Then the biggest potential embarrassment came on Thursday, when Parnell came under fire after a scathing report detailing allegations of fraud and sexual assaults in the Alaska National Guard was released.
Parnell forced the resignation of his adjutant general overseeing the National Guard. But that didn't stop criticism against Parnell, who has made reducing violence against women a hallmark of his administration.
"It was certainly an interesting week," Parnell campaign spokesman Luke Miller said Friday.
Miller brushed aside the week's diversions, saying Parnell was ready to get back to work.
His opponents, of course, weren't so ready to forgive.
Alaska Democratic Party spokesman Zack Fields said Parnell attempted to make Adjutant Gen. Thomas Katkus the "fall guy" for the scandal after the governor blindly accepted past assurances from Katkus that nothing was amiss. Parnell said the buck stopped with Katkus.
"Sean Parnell's house of cards came crashing down with a long-withheld National Guard report that showed systemic problems that went right to the top," Fields said.
Parnell, in a news conference announcing the National Guard investigation, said the report was an affirmation of his Choose Respect program, intended to curb the alarmingly high numbers of domestic violence and sexual assault cases in Alaska.
"When we can reveal the depth of these issues and bring them to the surface, we are then able as Alaskans to deal with them and to address them head-on, not just in a piecemeal process, which doesn't take care of the root of the problem" he said.
Parnell said he has committed to implementing the report's recommendations and appointing a project team to oversee that effort, with the help of the National Guard Bureau, whose Office of Complex Investigations conducted the review that led to the 229-page report.
Walker said he's not buying Parnell's contention that the buck stops with Katkus. The federal government conducted an investigation that should have been done in the state years ago — another "unfortunate sign of lack of leadership," Walker said.
"The commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard is the governor of Alaska," Walker said.
It's not that simple, said James Muller, who chairs the University of Alaska Anchorage political science department. Yes, the governor is ultimately in charge of the National Guard, but Parnell was up against resistance from the powers that be that were dismissed, Muller said.
"It's a very significant issue," he said. "But I think as a development that will hurt the governor, it's much more complicated and problematic because there's no question, I think, that the governor has been trying to get to the bottom of this for a very long time."
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