Cowdery excused from rest of special session

Senate president cites health as reason for absence

Posted: Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sen. John Cowdery, who has been accused of taking oil industry bribes, has been formally excused from the remainder of the session.

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The reason, announced by Sen. President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, was because of Cowdery's health.

Last spring Cowdery, R-Anchorage, received an excused absence from the start of the special session until Friday. He did not give a reason for the absence in the spring.

On Friday, the Senate met and extended Cowdery's excused absence, this time for health reasons.

During two recent criminal trials, of former Reps. Pete Kott and Vic Kohring, former executives of VECO Corp. have testified that they've bribed numerous legislators. Of those named, only Cowdery remains in office.

Cowdery has maintained his innocence, but said he would skip the special session on oil taxes because his presence would be a "distraction." He did not return a call left with a press spokesman Wednesday.

Senate rules don't allow senators to simply skip work, however. They must be excused by the other members of the Senate.

Friday, Cowdery sought and received an excused absence that Green said was for health reasons.

"The letter from his physician is on file with the Senate secretary," Green said.

Cowdery's critics, however, doubted the reasons for his excused absence.

"When he first submitted his letter, that was not the reason," said Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, leader of the Senate Republican Minority.

Cowdery is a member of the Senate Working Group, the bipartisan coalition that controls the Senate and supports Green as Senate president.

Cowdery chairs three committees, including the powerful Senate Rules Committee, along with the Legislative Council that supervises the operations of the Legislature.

Therriault said he "knew for a fact" that Cowdery had been asked by majority members not to attend the session. That action, he said, avoided the issue of Cowdery's chairmanships.

Even from Anchorage, Cowdery can wield power, he said.

A longtime critic of VECO's influence on Alaska politics, former Rep. Ray Metcalfe of Anchorage, said Cowdery's absence could do more than that in the 20-member Senate.

"His absence equals a 'no' vote," he said. "It takes 11 senators to push a bill through."

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