Oh, what a year!
Nominations investigations & convictions: 2008 in review 123108 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly Oh, what a year!

James Poulson / Daily Sitka Sentinel / The Associated Press

Jason Abbott, now 19, center, is led out of the Sitka Courthouse following his arraignment on four counts of first-degree murder March 26, 2008, in Sitka.

Courtesy Of U.s. Wildlife Service

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced in May that the polar bear would be granted a "threatened" designation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Gov. Sarah Palin's office objected to the "unsubstantiated assumptions" of the Fish and Wildlife Service's recommendation.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Story last updated at 12/31/2008 - 11:45 am

Nominations investigations & convictions: 2008 in review

Oh, what a year!

From Gov. Sarah Palin's vice presidential nomination to Sen. Ted Stevens' federal investigation (and later conviction), Alaska spent the better half of 2008 in the national spotlight.

Polar bears made the endangered species list, and then Alaska filed a lawsuit over the listing (Drill, Baby, Drill). And let's not forget Troopergate, the investigation with two conclusions. Throw into the mix hockey moms wearing lipstick, an energy crisis in the capital city, and big oil making a big summer impact to residents' wallets, and you have all the ingredients for a Final Frontier-sized soap opera.

Like we said before: Oh, what a year!

Sitka slayings

The pristine coastal community of Sitka became the gruesome site of multiple murders March 26 when then-18-year-old Jason Abbott allegedly killed four family members with a knife. A fifth victim, Abbott's aunt, was able to escape but suffered multiple knife wounds.

According to court records, Abbott admitted to the emergency room doctor and a detective that he had stabbed his grandparents and his aunt.

Authorities have called the slayings one of the most brutal acts of violence in Southeast Alaska. The case against Abbott is still in court.

Juneau power crisis

April 16 marks the day that Juneau residents learned some hard lessons in conservation. Slides near Alaska Electric Light and Power's Snettisham hydro project downed several transmission lines, forcing Juneau to rely on expensive diesel fuel to keep the city powered. At the very same time energy rates quintupled, residents also became energy conservation experts as power usage in Juneau was cut in half. Even today, residents are still using less power than during the same period last year. After six weeks the energy crisis was over and some valuable lessons were learned.

AEL&P now has an avalanche expert to monitor areas surrounding power lines. Avalanche experts said the massive slides were a rare occurrence that likely only happen once every few hundred years. Let's just hope lightning (or avalanches, in this case) doesn't strike the same location twice.

Exxon ruling

Nineteen years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill irrevocably damaged Prince William Sound, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 finally awarded damages to the claimants whose lives and livelihoods suffered after the spill.

The Court awarded no more than $507.5 million in punitive damages to the plaintiffs, about 10 percent of the jury's original award. Of the 32,000 claimants, about 80 percent were Alaskan fishermen.

Gov. Sarah Palin voiced her disappointment with the decision, saying, "The Court gutted the jury's decision on punitive damages. It is tragic that so many Alaska fishermen and their families have had their lives put on hold waiting for this decision."

Considered one of the worst oil spills in the world, the Exxon Valdez disaster spilled approximately 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. The oil fouled an estimated 1,300 miles of Alaska coastline. The spill killed hundreds of thousands of birds and animals, despoiled the environment and deprived thousands of fishermen and subsistence users of their livelihoods.

Although the Court issued its decision in June, claimants did not begin receiving settlement checks until December. Individual checks varied from $100 to as high as $400,000, with most claims from $10,000 to $20,000.

"It's hard to whoop and holler when you've got your back side caved in so many times," Frank Mullen, a fisherman for over 44 years, told the Homer News. "The comparison between what we once expected and what we're now getting, it's huge. It's a mere pittance compared to what we hoped for."

Polar bear politics

As Arctic ice melted beneath Alaskan polar bears, the poster-bears for global warming became caught in a the middle of a national debate about the fate of the bear, global warming and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced in May that the polar bear would be granted a "threatened" designation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). While milder than "endangered," the listing aims to protect any species likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Loss of sea ice, where the bears spend the majority of their time, was the main reason for the decision.

The state of Alaska has opposed the listing of the polar bear since early 2007.

Gov. Sarah Palin's office objected to the "unsubstantiated assumptions" of the Fish and Wildlife Service's recommendation, the "widespread social and economic impacts" of listing the bear and the "highly speculative and questionable" link between polar bears and global warming over the next 50 years.

After the bear was designated as "threatened," Palin announced

the state's intention to sue the Department of the Interior, maintaining that there was not enough evidence to support a listing. A listing would also throw a wrench into plans for oil and gas development in the polar bear's habitat.

Palin for Vice President

The Republican Party needed a fresh face to entice voters to the polls and found one in former Miss Wasilla Sarah Palin. Rumors about top Republicans considering Palin for the nation's second highest post were initially dismissed, even by Palin herself. On Aug. 28, however, Palin took the stage during the Republican National Convention and never looked back. Meanwhile, voices from the lower 48 reverberated "Who's Sarah Palin?"

Palin quickly amassed a devout following in the nation during the months leading up to November's general election. But the limelight didn't always produce positive results. While stumping for Sen. John McCain in the lower 48, some of Palin's past skeletons surfaced. The Troopergate investigation into her firing of Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in July dealt the Palin administration a black eye that will never fully heal.

Monegan accused members of the Palin administration of harassing and eventually firing him for not taking action against state trooper Mike Wooten, Palin's former brother-in-law, who went through a nasty divorce with Palin's sister.

Troopergate investigations ultimately were inconclusive, with two probes contradicting one another. The first probe, led by an investigator for the Legislative Council, found that Palin had abused her office but the firing was legal since Monegan was an at-will employee. The second probe, by the Alaska State Personnel Board, found there was no probable cause to believe Palin was guilty of any wrongdoing. The truth, though, is likely somewhere in between.

Nevertheless, the push for "Palin in 2012" has already begun.

Whether Alaskans see the bi-partisan pit bull they elected into office two years ago or her alter ego that played Republican politics is yet to be seen. Check back with us at the end of 2009 for an update.

So long, Uncle Ted

The 40-year reign of Sen. Ted Stevens is coming to a close. The nation's longest-serving Republican senator, credited with brining about $3.4 billion in federal spending to the state, lost a close race against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich after being convicted of four felony counts of failing to report $250,000 in home renovations provided by VECO Corp. founder - and current federal whistle blower - Bill Allen.

Alaskans must now learn to live without Uncle Ted's pull. It is, truly, the end of an era for Alaskans. Even though Alaska has one of the smallest populations among states, Stevens commanded a level of power and respect in Washington, D.C., that few other senators can claim.

Stevens has adamantly proclaimed his innocence the whole way. Voice recordings of Stevens telling Allen they may have to spend "a little time in jail" due to their business dealings, however, was likely the nail in the coffin. Stevens has requested for either a mistrial or a retrial in the case.

Uncle Ted, thanks for everything. We at the CCW are calling it now - Stevens will be pardoned Jan. 19 before Junior leaves the White House.