Kohring bribe allegations have an unusual twist

Representative allegedly bribed to not go 'wacko' with his anti-tax stance

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2007

State Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, under fire because of corruption allegations, may respond as soon as today to calls for his resignation from the House of Representatives.

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His decision, which may be revealed at a Wasilla Chamber of Commerce lunch, follows his indictment last month on federal bribery and extortion charges. Kohring has pleaded not guilty and said he expects to be cleared.

A resident of his Wasilla district has begun a recall effort, however.

If Kohring does resign, it will cost Wasilla one of the Alaska Legislature's most experienced members. Kohring is third among House members in seniority, after first being elected in 1994.

His radical anti-tax stance led him to big electoral victories in recent years.

Federal prosecutors allege that VECO CEO Bill Allen and Vice President Rick Smith bribed Kohring to support low oil production tax rates that had a chance of passing, rather than taking an "extreme anti-tax position."

The indictment alleges that Smith had to caution Kohring to "not go crazy" or "wacko" on opposing taxes and making himself irrelevant.

The administration of former Gov. Frank Murkowski and the oil producers were proposing a tax rate of 20 percent, combined with a tax credit of 20 percent.

That was known as the 20/20 Petroleum Production Tax bill, but some legislators objected and urged a higher tax rate, closer to the world average.

Prosecutors accuse Kohring of voting in favor of the tax rate supported by VECO.

The indictment claims Kohring agreed with Smith that the PPT and gas pipeline legislation, if passed, would "end up being the centerpiece of Alaska's economy."

He told Smith he'd help out if there were questions VECO wanted to raise in committee meetings or caucuses, or on points to be made to the public, according to the indictment.

In March of 2006 Kohring issued a press release calling the oil industry "the centerpiece of our economy" and urging lower tax rates.

Kohring told Smith he would "reluctantly go along" with VECO's proposed 20/20 rate.

Wasilla voters re-elected Kohring last November with 61 percent of the vote, despite his lack of explanation for an FBI raid on his Capitol office the previous August. Oil field services contractor VECO was raided at the same time.

Kohring defeated Katie Hurley, a longtime Alaskan who once served as secretary of the Alaska Constitutional Convention.

Gov. Sarah Palin, whose hometown makes her one of Kohring's constituents, declined in May to tell the Empire how she'd voted in his race.

After Kohring's re-election, members of the House Republican Caucus named him chairman of the House Special Committee on Oil and Gas. That committee was the first stop in the House for Palin's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. The bill, opposed by oil producers, was intended to bring Alaska a gas pipeline.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, defended the decision to appoint Kohring to a committee chairmanship. Kohring was under suspicion, but not yet under formal indictment, he said. The Legislature removed Kohring from his chairmanship after he was indicted.

The decision to appoint Kohring was made by Republican House members as a whole, not by him personally, Harris said.

Kohring also had some intangibles going for him. The lawmaker was unfailingly polite in a building where some legislators are known for having very thin skins.

During the last legislative session, KTUU-TV Juneau Bureau Chief Bill McCallister reported, another committee chairman whose ethics he questioned responded with profanity and "the threat of a punch."

Kohring, by contrast, continued to greet reporters amiably in the hallways, even when declining detailed answers to questions about the indictment.

"He's always been an odd duck," said Michael Carey, a former Anchorage Daily News editorial page editor who now works on KAKM-TV's Anchorage Edition public affairs show.

Kohring fears that not everyone likes him, however. He recently told the Anchorage Daily News that he's worn a bulletproof vest for protection on the floor of the House of Representatives, and has had guns fired near him while campaigning.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com or 523-2250.

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