In the wake of statewide protests against the passage of Senate Bill 21 – the contentious oil tax reform bill that is winding its way through the legislature – a pair of state senators employed by ConocoPhillips has faced renewed questions about potential conflicts of interest.
For Micciche, the questions about his employment go back at least as far as his Senate campaign last year and he has answered them many times. Micciche works for ConocoPhillips as manager of the company’s LNG plant in Kenai, a position that some pundits and voters have said puts him into conflict when it comes to legislation that could benefit his employer.
The questions have intensified since March 20th, when Micciche cast a key vote that led to a narrow 11-9 victory for SB 21 in the senate.
Before the vote, Micciche attempted to recuse himself but because legislative rules allow a recusal to be overturned by one vote from a fellow legislator, he voted anyway.
During a Senate majority press conference Friday, he was asked about that vote.
"We are required to vote and if that changes, then I would be happy to not vote on difficult issues," said Micciche. "I'm sure everyone would like to walk out of the room and not do their job when it's uncomfortable. That's not an option for me. I've not missed one committee meeting. I've not missed one floor vote and I'm not going to. I am following the rules of the senate."
Micciche has always maintained that members of a citizen legislature are frequently called on to vote on issues that affect their private employment and that problem is not isolated to those in the oil industry. Attorneys, commercial fishermen, business owners and others all face the same thing, he has said.
He says that most of the criticism is political, driven by vocal opponents of oil tax reform.
"They pull old numbers from old studies that are no longer pertinent and they say that two people shouldn't vote," he said. "But the next issue will have four people with a conflict and there won't be a word spoken. I ask that we don't have a double-standard."
Senator Meyer agrees that the motivation behind the questions is pure politics.
"Frankly, I am a bit appalled," said Meyer. "Last year I voted on oil taxes and this issue didn't come up once. Could it be that I was part of a bipartisan coalition last year and it was OK to vote for oil tax reform?"
Meyer says that ConocoPhillips has a culture of encouraging its employees to get involved in community issues and that’s how he originally got into Anchorage politics in the 1980s.
"It's not like I sat in my office yesterday at ConocoPhillips (and said), 'Man, I'm going to be a senator,'" he said. "I have worked my way up. I have earned people's trust. I am not going to lose the people's trust by not voting the way they want me to. My people knew where I worked before I got this job ... I think that's why a lot of them voted for me."
Senate Majority Leader and North Pole Senator John Coghill also came to Micciche’s defense, saying his knowledge of oil industry issues has been good for the senate.
"We should probably have more people working in the oil industry considering the benefit it has for Alaska," said Coghill.
Coghill also points out that if Senators Micciche and Meyer did not vote on important legislation that had to do with the oil industry, thousands of voters in their districts would be disenfranchised. That, he says, is the reason for the senate rules regarding recusal.
Senate Bill 21 is now in the hands of the House Finance Committee, after being passed out of House Resources Thursday.