Before a crowd of an estimated 200 people, Vic Kohring announced his resignation effective July 19th, but continued to proclaim his innocence of charges he accepted money for his vote in the state House. During his appearance, Kohring explained that his decision to resign is intended to allow him the opportunity to devote his full-time attention towards fighting and defeating the charges levied against him, while at the same time allowing constituents the opportunity to have effective full-time representation in the State House once again. He also wants to avoid the appearance of guilt tainting the office. Kohring also said that if he's exonerated in court, he will re-enter politics.
“The media and the population in general does not know I'm innocent,” Kohring said. “This has left a cloud of doubt over me and my votes.”
While some unscientific polls show that up to 90% of respondents wanted Kohring to resign, Kohring himself stated that out of dozens of e-mails he's received on the subject, only half from District 14 residents, 60% wanted him to stay on.
Key Alaska political figures were quick to react. House Speaker John Harris (R-Valdez) showed up at the luncheon to stand by Kohring and said the resignation will preserve the reputation of the House of Representatives. Governor Sarah Palin sent out a statement in the late afternoon in support of Kohring's decision. "He has a lot on his plate in terms of a defense that he has to mount, and Kohring's constituents expect full-time representation," Palin stated. Jim Chesbro, chairman of the Mat-Su Democrats, also expected Kohring to step down. He had sympathy for the legislator and was apprehensive about what might come next, characterizing it as a "mixed blessing". The new selection could be worse, he said.
And Wasilla City Council Member Mark Ewing, who started a now-redundant recall effort, stood next to a pickup full of signs and shouted, "Do the right thing, buddy!" as Kohring's car rolled past. Ewing said he and his girlfriend started circulating petitions to recall Kohring on Memorial Day weekend and gathered as many as 300 signatures a day. The stack of names is now at least 160 pages long, he said.
An hour after the luncheon, Steve Colligan, Republican party chairman for his Wasilla district, circulated a packet outlining how to apply for Kohring's job. But on possible replacements, both Ruedrich and Colligan were mum. Potential candidates can nominate themselves. Applications are due July 11th.
Kohring's decision to resign is the latest in a series of events related to a grand jury's indictment of Kohring, which alleges he “did knowingly and willfully combine, conspire, confederate and agree together and with each other to obstruct, delay and affect in any way and degree commerce and the movement of any article and commodity in commerce by extortion”.
According to the indictment, Kohring allegedly extorted VECO, a multinational oil field services company, when he agreed to perform certain official acts in exchange for money he did not officially earn. The indictment also says he conspired to performed official acts as a member of the Alaska Legislature “for the purpose of enriching himself and his family members.”
Specifically, 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 induced 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.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will choose his replacement. She is not required to wait until the July 19th effective date to appoint a replacement, according to House Speaker of the House John Harris (R-Valdez). However, she has 30 days after he leaves to find a replacement. Governor Palin can pick from a selection of qualified voters from Wasilla provided by the Republican Party of Kohring's Wasilla district, said Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska. Or she can pick another qualified Republican not on the list. State law forbids her from picking a replacement who is not a Republican.
“Qualified requires a registered member of the outgoing legislator's party who has lived in district and been registered as a party member for one year prior to outgoing legislator's date of election,” Ruedrich said.
While as many as ten prospective replacements have already expressed interest, no names have yet surfaced. Palin's pick will finish out Kohring's term, which expires in January 2009.
Kohring was first elected to office in 1994. He has generally been re-elected by wide margins, as his core mesaage of limited government and lower taxes has resonated well in the mostly-conservative district. Kohring could even be described as the "Ron Paul" of the Alaska state legislature. Even while the FBI was investigating him during last fall's election Kohring was re-elected in a a race against Wasilla's Katie Hurley by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
The Anchorage Daily News provides us a summarized list of steps on how the replacement process is expected to work.
When Rep. Vic Kohring (R-Wasilla) leaves his House seat on July 19th, Gov. Sarah Palin will have 30 days to appoint an eligible Republican from Kohring's district. Here's how it will work:
1). Republicans from his Wasilla district will take applications through July 11. E-mail them to email@example.com. Applicants will be interviewed; the top three will be chosen July 13, and their names will be forwarded to the governor. Palin can, however, choose someone else.
2). The appointee Palin selects must be confirmed by a majority vote of the Republicans in the House.
3). House Republicans must vote in special or regular session. A special session on oil taxes has been suggested for this fall. The next regular session begins January 15th.
4). If the appointee is confirmed, he or she will be sworn in and serve out the rest of Kohring's term, which ends in January 2009.
5). If the House Republicans reject the appointee, Palin has 10 more days to repeat the selection process and submit a new name.
While regrettable, Vic Kohring's resignation does allow him to devote full-time effort to his defense, assure undistracted representation for his district, and remove the ethical cloud which was forming over the state legislature. Sarah Palin's role in expediting the process further cements her reputation as an ethics reformer.