In an editorial column published on May 8th, 2007, the Anchorage Daily News has urged Rep. Vic Kohring (R-Wasilla, pictured at left) to resign his seat in the Alaska State House in the wake of his indictment on several political-related charges. This is just a part of a series of related political scandals already resulting in the indictment of former Representatives Tom Anderson, Bruce Weyhrauch, and Pete Kott, and may spread to engulf former State Senator Ben Stevens. Even State Senator John Cowdery (R-Anchorage) is now being viewed with suspicion. It is not possible to even scratch the surface of this situation in a single post, so I'll focus on Vic Kohring for now.
The four counts of the indictment are as follows:
Count 1: Conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion under color of official right anbd bribery.
Count 2: Interference with commerce by extortion indiced under color of official right.
Count 3: Attempted interference with commerce by extortion induced under color of official right.
Count 4: Bribery concerning programs receiving Federal funds.
Click HERE to view the entire 18-page indictment in PDF format.
In summary, the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) believes the political nature of the crimes he's accused of committing makes Rep. Kohring's stewardship hopelessly compromised and prevents him from effectively represent his constituency under any circumstances, even though Rep. Kohring has asserted his innocence and despite the fact that ADN clearly respects the presumption of innocence. Specifically, here's how ADN words their primary justification:
What Rep. Kohring is accused of doing is a crime of fundamental dishonesty that irrevocably compromises his fitness to serve. Unlike, say, a charge of felony assault, or DUI, or even a drug offense, a formal criminal charge of vote-selling means his constituents simply cannot trust him to do the public's business until legal proceedings are resolved.
ADN believes that the mere removal of Rep. Kohring from his leadership position as Chairman of the House Oil and Gas Committee is insufficient. They question how and why he was given the position in the first place. Since the FBI raided his district office last August, a raid concomitant with the arrest and indictment of former Rep. Tom Anderson, Rep. Kohring has faced questions about his integrity on the multi-billion dollar issues central to his committee's work. Specifically, the integrity of the petroleum profits tax passed by the entire legislature, a measure which was first vetted by Kohring's committee, has now become questionable and lawmakers intend to re-visit it.
Commentary: While the ADN doesn't refer to it, undoubtedly they are comparing Vic Kohring's alleged actions to those of former UA Regent Jim Hayes, who recently resigned. Since ADN called for Hayes' resignation, they apparently think it's consistent to call for Kohring's resignation also. However, there are two critical differences between the cases:
1). Jim Hayes' legal situation was affecting his work. He missed nearly half of Regents meetings since his indictment. In contrast, Vic Kohring was back at work on Monday, and with the legislative session scheduled to end on May 16th, this will become less of a factor. His legal situation at the moment should not seriously impair his availability to constituents.
2). Jim Hayes was an appointed official, apparently accountable to no one. Not even the Governor could apparently fire him. The only way to remove him at the time was through impeachment, an expensive, divisive, and time-consuming process (Rep. Bob Lynn has introduced legislation permitting the Governor to fire a regent for cause in the future). In contrast, Vic Kohring is an elected official, fully accountable to his constituency. And his constituency is not required to wait until the next election to hold him accountable. They can initiate a recall campaign to remove him from office beforehand, as was done with former State Senator Scott Ogan (Ogan resigned voluntarily in 2004 rather than face a recall election). Ogan had a $40,000-a-year consulting job with Evergreen Resources Inc., the same company that wanted to explore for coal bed methane on more than 300,000 acres across the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. This triggered the recall, and Ogan's subsequent resignation from Evergreen in October 2003 was not enough to turn it off.
Consequently, as long as Kohring's legal situation does not hinder his availability to constituents, I don't believe it's necessary for him to resign at this time. Let's allow his constituents in House District 14 the FIRST opportunity to hold him accountable through the recall process, if they so desire. However, if his constituents get enough signatures to place a recall initiative on the ballot, then at that point, Kohring should resign because it will be a tangible sign that too many of his constituents consider him hopelessly compromised.
And despite the relatively easy electoral victories he's earned, not every District 14 resident is a cheerleader for Vic Kohring. In particular, his former opponent from 2004, Pat Carney, became and remains one of his most bitter critics. On his emotional and subjective website, Vicrip.com, Carney chronicles several alleged misdeeds by Kohring. He castigates Kohring for accepting legislative per diem even though he (Kohring) lived in his legislative office. He also questioned Kohring's legal residency in District 14. However, Carney has made no public comment about Kohring's current situation to date.
And Vic Kohring was also brushed by the Evergreen controversy, primarily because of his sponsorship of HB 69 in 2003, Regulation of Shallow Natural Gas. This act, which allowed the state to override local regulation of methane operations and reduced public notice, was also widely perceived to abrogate private property rights in the Mat-Su Valley, and after over a year's outcry by local residents and the absorption of Evergreen by Pioneer Natural Resources, Pioneer announced in October 2004 that they were abandoning any developmental plans and returning the leases to the state.
And KTUU Channel 2 reported just this evening (May 8th) that Wasilla residents are beginning to express increasing doubts about Kohring's integrity. The report on his indictment is taking its toll. Combined with renewed revelations about past political activities, it may build an outcry too great for Kohring to withstand. People are fickle - they can turn on you in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, lost in the maze is the fact that Vic Kohring is one of the few lawmakers who understands that government should restrict itself to those functions people cannot do for themselves efficiently and effectively. The loss of Vic Kohring would remove one of the last barriers to growing government at the state level.