Cowdery returns to Capitol

Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Embattled Republican state Sen. John Cowdery was back in the Capitol on Monday after missing the first half of the Legislative session.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Cowdery, walking with the aid of a cane, took his seat on the Senate floor for his first appearance in Juneau this year and just in time to vote on an education funding bill.

Cowdery's return didn't cause much buzz among his colleagues. However, Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, took a moment during a floor speech to welcome Cowdery back.

Cowdery, who is under federal investigation, spent the last two months in Anchorage working from home and from his office while recovering from various but undisclosed illnesses.

GOP leaders in his district wanted better representation, claiming a lawmaker cannot be nearly as effective telecommuting as he could being in the Capitol.

Kenneth Kirk, a party chairman in Cowdery's district, called for the senator's resignation just before the session began in January.

"Anybody who's been in Juneau knows not being there in person is a huge disadvantage," Kirk said Monday. "You can't find out everything that is going on when you're not down there."

A spokesman for the Senate majority said Cowdery stayed in touch and phoned in for committee hearings while in Anchorage.

Cowdery himself Monday declined to address the criticism or comment on his prolonged absence, which included missing the entire 30-day special session on oil taxes last fall.

Cowdery's office was among six searched 18 months ago by the FBI, but he hasn't been charged in the ongoing corruption probe that has already produced two guilty verdicts. He's denied any wrongdoing.

But Cowdery's name has been mentioned in the federal corruption trials of two former lawmakers, both convicted of accepting bribes from executives of an oil field services company.

A former VECO Corp. vice president, Rick Smith, testified that he bribed Cowdery. Smith, who has been convicted and is cooperating with federal prosecutors, did not give details.

Former VECO chief Bill Allen, who also is cooperating with federal prosecutors, has testified Cowdery was a part of his inner circle.

The testimony prompted Senate Minority Leader Gene Therriault to call for Cowdery's resignation.

After that testimony, Cowdery announced he would not attend the special session last year because he didn't want to be a "distraction."

Then, the 78-year-old Cowdery announced a week before the regular session started in January that he wouldn't attend because of illness.

During his absence, Cowdery did step down from the powerful position of Rules Chairman. Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, took over and yielded his majority leader post to Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.



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