Sunday, May 13, 2007

Wasilla City Council Member Mark Ewing Launching Recall Of Indicted Alaska State Representative Vic Kohring

Wasilla City Council Member Mark Ewing is launching a recall campaign against indicted Alaska State Representative Vic Kohring (pictured at left). Kohring's district (House District 14) includes the greater Wasilla area. Original stories from the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman and the Anchorage Daily News.

Ewing, who occupies Seat F of the Council, hopes to have a petition ready for submission to the Division of Elections early this week. If approved by the division, the petition would put a recall measure to vote. If recalled, Kohring would be replaced either by a vote of the people or by governor appointment, depending on how much time remained before the next scheduled election. An appointed replacement would also have to be a Republican, like Kohring, so Ewing would not be eligible for the seat. Furthermore, Ewing has disavowed any intentions of seeking election to the seat even if he could. Ewing's party affiliation is "Undeclared".

Ewing believes a recall vote is necessary because Kohring has said he will not resign from office, despite the fact that Governor Sarah Palin, who still maintains her primary residence in Kohring's home district, has called for his resignation. "He's lost the trust of the voters,” Ewing told the Frontiersman. “I don't think he can be an effective leader. My hopes were that he'd step aside as asked. It's the honorable thing to do. But I don't know if honor plays a big factor with this man. If he doesn't understand the governor's request, then maybe he'll respond to the voters.”

Ewing told the Anchorage Daily News that he doesn’t expect it will be difficult to get the requisite number of signatures. The hard part will be making sure the petitions are properly filed, he said. “I’ve got people chomping at the bit,” he said. “It’s a matter of making sure that when we put it together, what we have on there is correct.”

And Mark Ewing has a steep learning curve to navigate. He initially told the Frontiersman he wasn't sure of the timeline for a recall effort, or whether a measure to recall Kohring would appear by itself, or on a regularly scheduled ballot. Because the relevant officials at the Division of Elections have been unavailable this week, Ewing said, there have been some delays getting things moving.

However, on Saturday, Ewing told the Anchorage Daily News that it's essentially a two-step process. First, he must write the petition and send it to Juneau with a list of 100 or more signatures. Then, if that petition is accepted, he will have to gather more than 700 signatures on a second petition to get the recall put to a vote.

No cost estimate for a recall election is yet available from the Division of Elections. However, Ewing believes the costs are justified to avoid bringing shame and disgrace to residents of the Mat-Su Valley. “It's no wonder they call us Valley Trash”, Ewing mused.

Vic Kohring, who represents House District 14 (the greater Wasilla area) and chaired the House Committee on Oil and Gas until fellow legislators stripped him of the position following his arrest May 4th, is charged with Federal counts of extortion, bribery and conspiracy relating to alleged favors performed for Alaska-based oil services company VECO. Although VECO executives have pleaded guilty to bribing Kohring and other officials, Kohring has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Media efforts to reach Kohring or his representatives for reaction on Saturday were unsuccessful.

The four counts of the indictment are as follows:

Count 1: Conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion under color of official right and 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.

A May 5th story in the Anchorage Daily News attempts to translate this into everyday English. According to ADN, Vic Kohring, if convicted on all charges, could face anywhere from 5-20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. He pleaded not guilty. Here is the pertinent excerpt from the article:

The charges portray Kohring, 48, elected seven times by Mat-Su voters, as an eager-to-please loyalist pleading for opportunities to do Veco’s bidding.

In a phone call Feb. 21, 2006, for instance, Kohring told Smith he was willing to help Veco "in terms of any questions that need to be asked, any information that needs to be sought out, any points to make in caucus, or in committee meeting, on radio columns …"

On March 22, 2006, Kohring offered to be Smith's "information source," that he would "lobby on (Veco’s) behalf," and that he would "consider modifications to legislation or whatever" if they asked. Two days later, he told Smith over the phone that he was standing by to "do anything to help," that he would continue to advocate “good things for you guys” and that he wanted Smith to tell Allen that he was doing whatever he could "to help out."

By March 30, 2006, Kohring appeared to be looking for payback. Meeting with Allen and Smith in Suite 604, he asked for work or for a $17,000 loan to pay off past-due credit card debt. The three discussed how to structure the transaction so it could avoid detection and reporting to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Allen then asked Smith if he had any “hundreds.” Smith reached for his wallet and handed Allen a bunch of small bills - perhaps $100, according to the indictment. Allen passed the money to Kohring. Thanking them for the money, Kohring repeated that he was broke. Allen gave him another wad of cash, between $500 and $1,000, the indictment said.

What can I do at this point to help you guys, anything?” Kohring said.

Whatever you, you know,” Allen said.

But between themselves, Smith and Allen seemed to have little respect for Kohring. On March 4, Allen told Smith of another $1,000 he gave to Kohring. One result of that payment: Kohring “would kiss our ass,” Allen said.

Kohring’s attorney, John Henry Browne of Seattle, said Kohring will fight the charges. He said Kohring is an uncomplicated man who sleeps on his office couch and doesn’t own a cell phone or even a car. Kohring’s constituents knew he was under investigation last fall and re-elected him anyway, Browne said.

However, since Bill Allen and Rick Smith have both pleaded guilty, it is possible that they are rolling over on Kohring and the other three lawmakers and could be overstating Kohring's role in order to make their own cases look better.

On Thursday, the Frontiersman visited the Wasilla Post Office and trolled for local reaction to the question of Vic Kohring's resignation. Most respondents wanted to see Kohring resign for the sake of appearances, even if they otherwise had supported him in the past. Several local elected officials also echoed this sentiment:

School board member Sarah Welton said “It's difficult to say, but any time a cloud occurs over your head, you're less effective. For him to resign right now, and someone to step in at the end of session, that might not be the best thing. But certainly, he can't be effective anymore, especially with the information that's coming out now in the press.”

Valley business owner Cheryl Turner, also a member of the school board, agreed. “I'm not supportive of the things he's done, if they turn out to be true, and it sounds like they will be,” she said. “I think they get too cozy down there in Juneau like nobody's watching. We'd be fools if we don't stand up to them and demand that the people representing us be truthful.” But Turner cautioned against rushing to judgment. “I've supported Vic for years. I've thought him a good representative. So I think it's important to wait to pass judgment until all the evidence comes out,” she said. “But I still think resigning might be a good idea".

Wasilla City Council member Marty Metiva, who described himself as a moderate Republican, said resignation is probably best for Kohring. “I think the proper thing to do would be to step down, for two reasons,” Metiva said. “For him personally, he can better defend himself. He's innocent until proven guilty, but it's the perception. I think (resigning) is the wisest thing to do.”

Borough Assembly member Michelle Church was less diplomatic. She said the unfolding scandal is evidence that the state has been hurt by the presence of Kohring and the others in the Legislature. “He ran on being a hard-working, honest conservative. The hypocrisy is so great here,” she said. “He should do himself and the state a favor and step down and apologize.”

However, Wasilla Mayor Dianne M. Keller was the exception. She said she has worked with Kohring over the years on city business when she travels to Juneau to lobby for Wasilla issues. She disagreed that the lawmaker should resign. “I'm glad we live in the United States of America, where each individual is entitled to due process,” Keller said. “I think his peers in the Legislature should make the determination (about his future).”

KTUU visited the Valley on Tuesday May 8th, and got similar reactions from the public.

In addition, KTUU Channel 2 conducted one of their "unscientific polls" on May 8th and discovered that 90% of respondents statewide wanted to see Kohring resign. This, along with the calls for his resignation by Governor Palin and the Anchorage Daily News, portend a grim and possibly a very short political future for Representative Kohring.

The benchmark is the recall petition. The predominant sentiment for his resignation leads me to believe that if a recall election were to be held tomorrow, Vic Kohring would be successfully recalled. The passing of time may soften the passion, but it's unlikely to change attitudes. Once a recall petition is successfully accepted and certified by the Division of Elections, the situation will become irremediable at that point, and Kohring should then resign.

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