Kohring avoids voting on gas bill

Lawmaker says he was asked to refrain

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2007

State Rep. Vic Kohring, who faces bribery and extortion charges, revealed this week that a senior lawmaker asked that he not vote on Gov. Sarah Palin's natural gas pipeline bill.

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He said he understands his pipeline vote could have been considered tainted, so he honored the request from Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. Kohring is now considering a new request from Republican leaders that he resign his legislative seat.

"I haven't made a final decision," he told The Associated Press. "I'll listen carefully to my constituents. I've taken this role very seriously, but I'm not so wedded to this job or have so much pride that it would get in the way of respecting the wishes of the public."

He has indicated a decision could be reached this week, ahead of a legislative special session on benefits for senior citizens, which will start June 26 in Anchorage.

On Wednesday afternoon, Palin and members of her energy team participated in a ceremonial signing of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act in Fairbanks.

Under AGIA, producers and independent pipeline companies can vie for rights to build a pipeline that lawmakers hope will ship trillions of cubic feet of North Slope natural gas to market.

The House and Senate passed Palin's bill May 11, a week after Kohring and two former lawmakers were indicted on federal charges of bribery and extortion related in part to changes in the state's oil production tax passed in 2006.

Palin also said she would call a special session later this year to re-examine how last year's Legislature considered and passed the Petroleum Profits Tax plan, which she has said was approved under a dark cloud.

The indictments left some lawmakers squeamish about Kohring casting votes on any energy-related bills in the waning days of this year's legislative session.

When lawmakers discussed and voted on AGIA on May 11, Kohring quietly left the House chambers and didn't return until all discussion on the bill was completed.

Kohring initially declined to identify who asked him to refrain from voting, saying it was people he held in "high regard," but on Wednesday he confirmed Kerttula asked that he step aside.

"I thought it would keep things calm and provide the least amount of disruption by not being a part of that vote," Kohring said. "So I made the decision to quietly slip out.

"She wasn't putting any pressure on me at all; she just gave me some wise counsel, and it was prudent of me to simply not vote," he said.

Kerttula said she approached Kohring outside the House chambers, saying she thought it was best he leave the floor before the vote.

"I had two concerns: integrity of the (legislative) body and for individuals to be treated fairly," she said. "Having him off the floor accomplished those.

An attorney, Kerttula said she was still mindful of Kohring's constitutional right to be considered innocent until his trial, now scheduled for October, is completed.

"I wasn't judging him when I was asking him to do that," she said. "He didn't have to do it, but he took a lot of pressure off the body. It showed quite a bit of courage that moment."

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