Palin questions whether Cowdery should keep post

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin said Monday that Senate leaders should review whether Anchorage Republican John Cowdery is qualified to remain the Senate Rules Committee chairman.

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On Friday, a former oil field services executive testified that Cowdery was among five lawmakers he bribed for favorable influence on oil tax legislation.

Cowdery was among six legislators whose offices the FBI raided last year. He has not been charged, but was named in testimony during former Rep. Pete Kott's federal corruption trial last week.

Palin stopped short of calling for Cowdery to be stripped of his title, saying that decision rests with Senate leaders who initially put him in that position.

The rules chairman is considered the gatekeeper of all legislation that reaches the Senate floor for a vote.

"With that confirmation in testimony, I would think that the Senate leadership would want to address the issue," Palin said. "We haven't heard them address it yet.

"And we haven't heard what Senate leadership intends to do about the allegations, especially now that the names have been made public."

Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, did not immediately return requests for comment Monday.

Cowdery is out of town and unavailable for comment, said Jeff Turner, press secretary for the Senate majority, made up of six Republicans and nine Democrats.

After federal agents searched his office last August, Cowdery was among the first to respond.

"It's pretty bizarre," he said in a prepared statement. "That's all I know. It's pretty bizarre. I haven't done anything wrong."

A special session looms next month on oil taxes, called in part to review how the Legislature in 2006 passed a new tax on the oil industry. The issue dominated the session and is at the heart of charges against three former lawmakers, including Kott.

Having Cowdery remain as Rules Committee chairman for the session that starts Oct. 18 has some lawmakers nervous.

"At the very least the leadership needs to look at can we go through a special session and evaluate the proposal?" said Minority Leader Gene Therriault, R-North Pole,

Cowdery's appointment came under scrutiny Jan. 16 during the first Senate floor session when committee appointments received a vote.

Therriault, whose minority group is made up of five Republicans, raised the issue then, but Cowdery was approved along coalition lines, 15-5.

Therriault believes testimony last week from former VECO Corp. Vice President Rick Smith - in which Smith didn't elaborate on how he allegedly bribed Cowdery - warrants revisiting Cowdery's leadership role.

"Now there appears even more reason to be concerned about public perception over Sen. Cowdery remaining in a leadership position," Therriault said.

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