Corruption Trials Are Painful,
By Senator Gene Therriault
October 15, 2007
The recent jury verdicts in the public corruption trials of former
Alaska Legislators have been disturbing, to say the least. As
a strong supporter of the legislative process in our democratic
system of checks and balances, I take no pleasure in seeing Alaskans'
confidence in our representative system of government shaken
to its very foundation. As difficult as this is to bear,
I believe it is necessary to begin restoring confidence in the
Legislature. For this reason, I recently chose to attend portions
of the trial of former Speaker of the House Pete Kott to show
that members of the Legislature are watching to fully understand
the illegal activities that transpired in the recent oil and
gas tax debate. While some observers take satisfaction that the
current investigations reflect badly on Republican Legislators,
a review of the past indicates that impropriety by elected officials
is not limited to a particular party.
A quick review of Alaska legislators who have crossed legal and
ethical boundaries shows that individuals of both major parties
have succumbed to the siren song of money, power and influence.
The last legal proceedings against a member of the Legislature
for corruption occurred in the early 1980's when both a Democrat
and Republican were forced from office. Democratic Senator George
Hohman of Bethel was convicted of bribery in 1981 for trying
to steer the State into the purchase of a controversial aircraft
for fire suppression efforts. One year later Republican Senator
Ed Dankworth of Anchorage left office after formal charges of
corruption were brought against him, although he ultimately avoided
prosecution on a legal technicality. These gentlemen tried to
use their positions of influence in the Legislature to obtain
a personal monetary benefit with little or no regard for what
was best for the State.
There is no surprise that individuals hoping to secure influence
in our Legislature search out officials who hold the reins of
power at the time. In the cases cited above, Hohman and Dankworth
tried to use the strength of their committee positions to enrich
themselves. In both instances, those who were interested in
circumventing the legitimate process approached legislators in
positions to "git er done."
On the day the Pete Kott trial began, I was reminded of a recent
conviction in a similar case in North Carolina where a former
Speaker of the House surrendered to authorities to begin serving
a five-year sentence for corruption. The difference was that
the corrupt official there had risen to power as a Democrat,
whereas Kott is a Republican. The similarity in these cases
has reinforced my belief that, although those indicted, searched
and questioned here in Alaska have been primarily Republicans,
bad actors are not a product of a particular political philosophy
or party, but rather a reflection of a general human failing.
That failing is susceptibility to the lure of power, wealth
For the past two years I have been part of a group of senators
who openly questioned the previous administration's petroleum
tax proposal. This group cut across party lines in open defiance
of senate leaders at the time, and demanded independent analysis
of how to protect the State's best interest. What transpired
in that debate is perhaps the longest and nastiest policy battle
Numerous votes and actions in the petroleum tax debate caused
me to question the motives and loyalties of both Republican and
Democratic colleagues. The ongoing federal investigation and
prosecutions have answered some of these questions; however,
others are likely to persist until the investigation concludes.
As discomforting as the current situation is, I believe what
will emerge is a strengthened legislative process that Alaskans
can be proud of. However, there will always be a need for elected
officials to be constantly on guard for the sense of privilege
that can sneak up on anyone who is given even a modicum of power.
Senator Gene Therriault
Senate Republican Minority Leader
Senate District F
Received October 15, 2007 -
Published October 15, 2007
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