Cowdery pulls out of special session on tax

Accused senator's action comes after trial testimony, call from governor

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2007

State Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, announced Tuesday he will not participate in the October special legislative session on oil taxes, after he was implicated in the ongoing corruption trial in Anchorage.

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An oil industry executive testified while on the witness stand that he had bribed Cowdery, and Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday called on members of the Alaska Senate to reconsider whether Cowdery should participate in the session.

Cowdery, in a statement issued by spokesman Jeff Turner, denied wrongdoing but said his presence in Juneau for the session would be a distraction.

"I want to make it clear that I have not been charged with any crime, and I maintain my innocence in the ongoing federal investigation," Cowdery said.

FBI agents a year ago searched Cowdery's legislative office, and former VECO Corp. executive Rick Smith has listed Cowdery's name among those his company had bribed during testimony in the trial of former Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River. Cowdery was the only sitting senator Smith named.

Cowdery's statement said his decision was made in the best interests of the legislative process and the citizens of Alaska.

"I do not want my presence at next month's special session to be a distraction or serve to undermine the hard work and dedication of my colleagues. As a result, I have decided to sit out the entirety of next month's special session," he said.

On Tuesday afternoon Palin was seeing her son, Track, off at the airport where he was heading out for basic training after his recent enlistment. She had not yet been notified of Cowdery's announcement, spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said.

Cowdery is considered in the Legislature to be an ally of the oil industry and fought for a lower tax rate during last year's Petroleum Profits Tax negotiations.

The former owner of a construction company, he also is a personal friend of former VECO CEO Bill Allen.

Allen and Smith have pleaded guilty to bribing numerous legislators, only some of whom have been indicted.

The influential Cowdery holds three committee chairmanships, including that of the powerful Rules Committee. That committee is in charge of which bills make it to the Senate floor for consideration during regular sessions, but its role during a special session is likely to be limited.

Vice chairman of the Rules Committee is Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

Cowdery is a member of the Senate Working Group, the bipartisan coalition that controls the Senate and is led by Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla.

Members of the Senate Republican Minority, led by Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, raised concerns about Cowdery's appointment to the Rules Committee when the 25th Alaska Legislature organized earlier this year.

Cowdery also serves as chairman of the Legislative Council, which manages the building, staff and other logistical aspects of the Legislature and meets only intermittently.

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