On Aug. 13, 2007, Salon.com published a report headlined "What's wromg with Alaska?" that was written by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, a national affairs for Rolling Stone. Page 2 of the report contained this:
In a neat symbolic fit, the agent responsible for Alaska's current moment of reform and modernization is a woman, a breed once nearly as rare in far Northwest politics as a Democrat. Sarah Palin, a libertarian and hockey mom from the fast-growing suburbs of Anchorage, began her political career -- as an appointed member of the state's Oil and Gas Commission -- by hacking into the computer of another commissioner, Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. Palin was seeking the evidence that she would eventually use to charge him with an improper relationship with lobbyists. (Ruedrich would later settle state ethics charges against him by paying a $12,000 fine.)
It is difficult not to see Palin's ascendance not just as a challenge to the state's establishment but also as presenting a crudely cut choice between the state's cronyist, resource-economy past and its future. She beat Frank Murkowski, the incumbent, in the GOP primary; voters began to sour on Murkowski as soon as he picked his daughter to replace him in the Senate, and then grew angrier over his grubbing for a private jet and other perceived ethical lapses. He left office the least popular governor in the country. Since her election as governor last November, Palin has made a public point of cutting down on Alaska's excesses, and challenging the easy habits of its past -- getting the state to put Murkowski's infamous jet up for sale on eBay, canceling pork projects and firing patronage appointees. By early this summer, with the scandals plaguing the rest of the Republican Party, Alaska Democrats had made some headway in the polls. But Palin's approval ratings are over 90 percent. Whether in the long term Alaska's economy can modernize and the state can wean itself from government welfare remains to be seen. But as Stevens hits back at the FBI through press releases, the senator's old legislative aides plead guilty, and his son endures a federal investigation, the moment is beginning to look like a pivotal point in Alaska's history. Perhaps the rough edges are being ushered out and something more modern and nationally acceptable has begun to move in.
What is happening in Alaska is not simply the collapse of one ancient Republican power and the rise of another, in Palin, that is more fragile and conditional. It is the assertion that for all of the country's divisions into red and blue, the national culture does exert a crude centrifugal tug, a tendency to iron out protruding regional discrepancies. The plaintive, humbled sounds coming from Alaska right now are those that always emerge when the exception succumbs to the rule.
Palin's actions, which could be seen as unethical and illegal, were the subject of a story in the Anchorage Daily News on Sept. 19, 2004 written by Richard Mauer.
Mauer writes that Palin was apparently working at the request of Paul Lyle, an assistant attorney general in Juneau. Mauer wrote that Palin was simply looking for evidence that Ruedrich, who had been a member of the Oil and Gas Commission while Palin was the chairwoman, had broken the state ethics law.
Kim Zetter of Wired.com boils the case down in her blog:
Palin, as chairwoman of the Oil and Gas Commission and its ethics supervisor, was entitled to examine Ruedrich's computer, since the computer was state property. According to the Anchorage Daily News, a technician who worked for the commission found a way around Ruedrich's password (presumably by simply using an administrative password) and recovered some files from his computer's trash bin. Palin found dozens of e-mails and documents on the computer that suggested an improper relationship between Ruedrich and oil companies, which she forwarded to the attorney general's office.
While Mauer's report tells Palin's side of the story, voters this fall will question whether Palin's computer-hacking activities were justified, ethical and/or legal. It may be all three. But the Internet is fertile ground for political attacks. This revelation in conjunction with her current ethics investigation will be a tough hurdle for her to overcome in a national election.