Republicans resist corruption

Ongoing trials show some lawmakers stood up against unethical behavior

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Legislative ethics travails have mostly focused on Republican failings so far, but the ongoing trial of former House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, is painting some in the party in a different light.

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Though two as-yet-unindicted Republicans have been fingered by witnesses as bribe recipients, some others have been identified as standing up against corruption.

"It's been a little difficult to be on the high road as a Republican for the last year and a half," said Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks.

Senate Republican Minority Leader Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, turned out to be VECO Corp. CEO Bill Allen's chief nemesis during last year's battles over the Petroleum Profits Tax, however.

Allen has since pleaded guilty to bribing legislators. Kott is on trial in Anchorage, accused of accepting those bribes. Two other Republican lawmakers have been indicted and are awaiting trial, and two other Republican senators have been implicated in trial testimony.

Therriault, then the chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, was fighting to bring in more revenue for the state, while Allen was trying to cut taxes for oil producers.

"Gene performed a real public service," said Wilken, a Therriault ally.

At the same time, it was revealed on the witness stand last week that Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, another Therriault ally, had been guiding the FBI through the legislative process. Dyson told the Anchorage Daily News that the FBI investigation was already underway when agents approached him and asked for help.

And House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, has for years been fighting attempts to unseat him as speaker and install Kott in the powerful position.

Former Republican legislator and independent gubernatorial candidate Andrew Halcro saw early on how Allen operated as a kingmaker and tried to shore up Kott's power.

In an entry on his blog, Halcro wrote that two days after his election to the House of Representatives in 1998, he got a call from Allen.

Allen was already well known as a political power broker. He also is a former owner of the Anchorage Times newspaper and more recently the Voice of the Times.

"After opening salutations, he got right to the reason for his call. He insisted my vote go to Pete Kott for speaker of the House," Halcro wrote.

Halcro said Allen made it clear why Halcro should do his bidding.

"When I declined, (Allen) pointedly reminded me about the financial help he had given the party and the fundraiser he had sponsored for my campaign months earlier," he said.

Halcro said he ended the call, but Kott later won the speakership with the backing of Allen, this time running against Harris, who is speaker today.

"He beat me, and that was OK," Harris said. "I don't hold any animosity toward Pete Kott."

Later, after Harris won the speakership, Kott made unsuccessful attempts to put together a coalition to win the position back. Last year, Kott was defeated in the Republican primary and left the Legislature.

Halcro, still registered as a Republican, said it has been a difficult time to be a Republican and watch what has been going on.

"It's ugly," he said. "But it's not a Democrat-Republican thing. ... It's a competence thing - electing people who are honest."

Watching the process from her position as House Minority Leader, Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said it is tempting to blame the Republican Party and its long-standing ties to the oil industry for the corruption in the Legislature. There's more to it than that, however, she said.

"It's not so much about the party but amassing the power within one party," she said. "It was so much power for so long, and the party amassing it didn't handle it well."

The Republican Party in Alaska has long been dominant, but lately its margins in the Legislature are slipping. The majority in the Senate is 11-9, forcing Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, to look to Democratic support to win the Senate presidency.

Wilken and Dyson stuck with those who backed Therriault and found themselves in the minority.

Last year, Therriault clashed repeatedly with former Gov. Frank Murkowski, who was pushing the Petroleum Profits Tax, and then-Senate President Ben Stevens, who has been identified by prosecutors as having received bribes from VECO to support the tax.

"I think my biggest pleasure has been seeing Gene in the process of being vindicated for all the work he did last year," Wilken said.

In the house, the Republican majority has shrunk to 23-17, with Kerttula hoping for more Democratic gains to come.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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