JUNEAU, Alaska — Gov. Sarah Palin, a rising young GOP star mentioned as a possible running mate for John McCain, could see her clean-hands reputation damaged by a growing furor over whether she tried to get her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper.
A legislative panel has launched a $100,000 investigation to determine if Palin dismissed Alaska's public safety commissioner because he would not fire the trooper, Mike Wooten. Wooten went through a messy divorce from Palin's sister.
Palin has denied the commissioner's dismissal had anything to do with her former brother-in-law. And she denied orchestrating the dozens of telephone calls made by her husband and members of her administration to Wooten's bosses.
Palin said she welcomes the investigation: "Hold me accountable."
Still, the allegations she abused her office could prove embarrassing for Palin, who got elected in 2006 on an ethics reform platform.
"It could be a bit of a knock on the clean-government issue in Alaska she backed," said Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at University of California at Riverside.
Referring to Republican Sen. Ted Stevens' recent indictment on corruption charges and the bribery-and-conspiracy scandal that has ensnared five former or current state lawmakers, GOP analyst John Feehery said: "Right now, in Alaska all you have to do is say the word 'investigation' and people are going to be running away."
Nevertheless, Palin is still riding high in Alaska, where she jump-started a project to build a natural gas pipeline and pushed through a plan to send every resident $1,200 from the state's oil-rich treasury to offset fuel prices.
And based on what has come out so far, some GOP insiders and political scientists said they are not worried about the effect on her prospects for higher office. (Some analysts said that because of her inexperience, Palin never had any realistic chance of being picked for vice president.)
"I would be very surprised if Sarah Palin didn't become a larger figure within national politics and I would be very surprised if she wasn't a part of a McCain administration," said Todd Harris, a Republican aide on McCain's 2000 White House bid.
Up to now, GOP insiders and political analysts have marveled at Palin's ascent on the national scene, calling her refreshing.
The 44-year-old Palin has not been afraid to take on the Republican Old Guard in Alaska and has tangled with the oil companies. Last year, the former beauty queen posed for a photo shoot in Vogue, and this spring she gave birth to her fifth child, who has Down's syndrome.