As TPM noted earlier, a new Republican congressman from Arizona has hired two Palin-tied Alaskans to run his office in D.C.
The hirings have everything to do with the close-knit, pro-Palin world of Alaskan dentistry.
Rep.-elect Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who just hired two friends of Sarah Palin’s to his staff, is a dentist. His two new Alaskan hires are Rob Robinson, a retired dentist who was active in Wasilla politics and the Alaska Dental Society, and Thomas Van Flein, the Palin family lawyer who has also been representing the ADS for years.
Robinson, who worked as Gosar’s campaign manager, introduced Palin to Gosar, who won her endorsement (and the election).
Gosar served with Robinson on the American Dental Association’s government affairs council. And Gosar — despite being from a state 2,500 miles away — used his influence at the national organization to help the Alaska group in a legal crusade it fought earlier this decade. According to a glowing endorsement by the ADS this summer, Gosar helped draw the ADA’s attention to a fight to stop “dental therapists” from practicing basic dentistry in rural Alaska.
The fight centered around eight federally-licensed dental therapists, who had been trained for two years and practiced in remote villages populated by Alaska Natives. The ADS argued that the therapists needed to be licensed by the state; proponents of the program argued that the therapists were the only way to get basic dental care to the residents of remote places who were often too poor to travel to a city with a licensed dentist. In 2007, a judge ruled that the program could continue.
Van Flein represented the group in the failed lawsuit. The group’s then-president, David Eichler, drew fire during the court battle when he suggested on an online message board that Native tribes had poor dental health due to ignorance and deserved to die out, statements other members of the ADS, and the ADA, condemned. He later apologized.
Like Van Flein, Eichler also had a role in Trooper-Gate, the scandal surrounding Palin’s firing of the state’s public safety commissioner. Van Flein was Palin’s lawyer in the ensuing investigation. Eichler was one of five Alaska residents — represented by former Senate candidate Joe Miller — who sued the Trooper-Gate investigator in Sept. 2008, saying the probe was a waste of taxpayer money. Eichler and the other plaintiffs dropped the case within a month, once it became apparent they wouldn’t win.
Van Flein, in his work for the ADS, also wrote an amicus brief for the group in the 2007 appeal of an Alaskan dentist who had been convicted of getting patients hooked on prescription drugs and then manipulating them into having sex with him to get more drugs. The ADS filed the brief in favor of the dentist, Stephen Grandstaff, arguing that the trial court should not have admitted statements Grandstaff made during a peer-reviewed investigation. The ADS argued that anything in peer review is confidential; the court ruled that confidentiality didn’t apply to criminal cases. Grandstaff is serving a 19-year sentence.