Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's endorsement helped Rep.-elect Paul Gosar (R) win a seat in Congress, and now he's rewarding the man who introduced the pair with a plum staff position.
Gosar, who unseated Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) in Arizona's 1st district, has named retired dentist Rob Robinson as his chief of staff. Robinson left his son in charge of his Wasilla, Alaska-based dental practice to move to Arizona in 2009 and become Gosar's campaign manager, treasurer and chief adviser.
Gosar told Roll Call that Robinson introduced him to Palin. Robinson got to know Palin from being politically active in their 7,000-population town, where Palin served as mayor. "I know he was very involved in the politics in Alaska and very involved in the politics of Wasilla," Gosar said.
Gosar and Robinson are colleagues in the American Dental Association. Both have served as officers of the group's Council on Government Affairs. Gosar first announced his intent to run for Congress at the association's 2009 national conference in Washington, D.C.
Robinson, who will work from Gosar's Arizona district office, isn't the only person with Palin ties on the fledgling payroll.
Gosar hired Palin family attorney Thomas Van Flein to be his legislative director and deputy chief of staff. Van Flein graduated from the University of Arizona College of Law in 1989, according to his profile on his law firm's website. Van Flein's Alaska law firm, Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen & Thorsness, helped Palin and her family navigate the Troopergate scandal when she was governor. Van Flein also represented Palin-endorsed tea party Senate candidate Joe Miller. Palin paid Van Flein a hefty retainer over the course of 2010, with the most recent payment of $10,000 coming on Oct. 28, according to her Federal Election Commission filings.
Robinson and Van Flein could not be reached for comment, but Gosar told Roll Call that even though the men have no Congressional experience, he hired them because of trust.
"Trust. A series of promises kept," Gosar said Thursday. "They are battle-tested with me and things we have to take on with regards to dentistry."
"We were always looking at somebody that we trust," Gosar added. "Be able to watch your back and think the same way you are and Rob does a lot of those things with me."
Van Flein also represents the Alaska Dental Society, which boasted in a newsletter to members about Robinson, the group's former president, and his role in the Gosar campaign.
"Dr. Gosar is one of the best friends and strongest allies that the ADS has in all of organized dentistry," the June 2009 newsletter read, providing an address to send campaign donations. "So if you've been wondering what's become of Rob Robinson – he's running a congressional campaign for a great friend of the ADS."
The dental group's June 2010 newsletter included the tale of a Gosar-Robinson fishing trip in Alaska.
"Congressional campaigning is exhausting work and sometimes both candidates and campaign managers need to step back and take a break," the newsletter read. "So it was that Dr. Gosar and Dr. Robinson spent a few days in Aleknagik catching fish."
Van Flein recently represented the dental group in a 2006 claim against an Alaskan tribal health service that was allegedly practicing dentistry without a license, according to court records. He filed an amicus curiae brief in 2007 on behalf of the group in the appeal of an Alaska dentist convicted of overprescribing drugs to female patients and manipulating them into having sex with him for more drugs.
Gosar raked in more campaign cash from the health sector than from any other industry. Five of his top seven donors are related to the dental field and the American Dental Association spent almost $170,000 in independent expenditures toward his campaign, according to the FEC. Gosar's campaign was orchestrated by fellow dentists, including Arizona practitioners Brien Harvey, Rob Roda and Brian Powley. The latter was also an officer on the American Dental Association's Council on Government Affairs.
Gosar is the only Arizona candidate Palin endorsed during the general election campaign. (Earlier in the year she supported her 2008 running mate, Sen. John McCain, in a Republican primary.) In July, Palin called Gosar "a bold man" who "shares our belief that the federal government's reckless spending is putting us on a dangerous path towards insolvency."
"The good doctor knows that true job creation comes from the private sector, not government; and he will work to rein in the fed's long arm and get our economy moving again by getting government out of the way," she said when endorsing Gosar on Facebook.
But Gosar downplayed the amount of influence that Palin will have on his legislative work. "I know Gov. Palin is a classy lady and has her head on straight," Gosar said. "When it comes to politics, it's nice to be mired with Sarah Palin. But I'm Paul Gosar. I'm my own person."
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.