The Alaska House of Representatives on Monday removed Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, from his chairmanship of the Special Committee on Oil and Gas, which he has held since 2003.
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Kohring entered a plea of not guilty in federal court Friday to multiple extortion and bribery charges. He was released on $20,000 bond.
"Rep. Kohring will not be removed from any of his committee assignments, just his chairmanship," said House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez.
Harris said that no one should be presumed guilty before they are convicted, but that it was also important to hold the Legislature to a higher standard.
A visibly emotional Kohring arrived late on the House floor Monday and missed hearing Pastor George Silides of Juneau's Holy Trinity Episcopal Church mention "temptations and difficulties" facing legislators during his invocation.
As he arrived, Rep. Bill Thomas Jr., R-Haines, seated next to Kohring, clasped his hands. During a break, Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, shook his hand. Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, gave Kohring a supportive hug.
Kohring voted to support an effort to take benefits away from same-sex partners of state employees but did not participate in the debate.
Kohring was polite after the floor session but declined to discuss the case against him. He later provided a written statement saying he supported the House's decision to remove his chairmanship.
"I agree with the leadership that temporarily suspending me as chair of the House Special Committee on Oil and Gas is in the best interest of the body," he said.
Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, will replace Kohring on an interim basis, Harris said.
"I firmly believe in the judicial system, and that a jury of my peers will find me not guilty of these charges at which time the leadership of the House has agreed to return me to my chair," Kohring said.
Kohring was chairman of the Oil and Gas Committee when it conducted the House's first review of Gov. Sarah Palin's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. He also served on the House Resources Committee which took the second look at AGIA.
The bill, which is designed to bring a natural gas pipeline to Alaska, is now being heard in its final committee of referral, the House Finance Committee. It is also under consideration In the Senate Finance Committee.
Kohring retains his committee posts. On Friday afternoon, he appeared in the Resources Committee and said he would continue to serve his term.
"Constituents in my district know that my top priority has always been to serve them. That has not changed," he said.
Kohring has represented Wasilla, also Gov. Palin's hometown, since 1994.
Even after many terms in the Legislature, Kohring campaigned hard for reelection last fall.
He received 61 percent of the vote, even after reports that the FBI had searched his office as part of a corruption investigation.
In committees, however, Kohring is known for lackluster participation in the process.
He has sponsored only two bills this session, among the fewest of any legislator. One of those would exempt small oil producers from pollution prevention regulations.
That bill has not had a hearing, even in Kohring's own Oil and Gas Committee.
Another Kohring bill, introduced in January, would provide increased property tax exemptions for seniors. It was scheduled for a hearing Saturday, but the hearing was canceled when Kohring, arrested the previous day, failed to appear.
Pat Forgey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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