Peter Micciche said he developed a thicker skin during his first session in the Alaska Legislature.
During the session, Micciche, in his first term representing District O in the Senate, came under the microscope for his employment with one of the state’s largest oil and gas companies. Critics said his job as an employee of ConocoPhillips created a conflict of interest with his duties in the Legislature, and that Micciche is pushing a corporate agenda in a citizen’s legislature and has served up the state’s finances on a plate to hungry oil companies.
Not so, he says.
“The press, in my view, irresponsibly doesn’t take the time to get to know you, doesn’t look at your record — 30-year record in the community — and they almost make it sound like you are this sort of new corporate plant that showed up one day to do the work of the corporation instead of who you really are,” said the Soldotna Republican, who is also the superintendent of ConocoPhillips’ Kenai LNG facility when not in session.
So who is the real Micciche? Former mayor of Soldotna who helps pay for radio PSAs out of pocket, gives career advice to high school students or hosts skate park competitions? Or the not-so-secret corporate infiltrator and leader of an epic oil tax giveaway?
“It hurts,” he said. “At first it hurt a lot. And then you realize these people don’t know you, these people are either going to give you a fair chance and evaluate you on what you actually accomplish while you are in Juneau, or not.”
Despite the public chiding he received during this year’s legislative session — one that included votes on an oil tax rewrite and an in-state gas pipeline — Micciche is unfazed and undeterred. The only regret he said he has is that the conversation was a distraction from the real issues of the session.
“No, I’m not even remotely frustrated,” he said. “I’m cognizant of the fact that politics are politics. I’m going to work my tail off for the people of the Kenai and the people of Alaska. For those who sit back and objectively review my performance, they’ll agree.
“For those that want to focus on the other thing, I can’t ever change their mind. You know what? They are people that probably didn’t support me in the first place and never will. You can’t win ‘em all.”
Overall, Micciche said he was pleased with the work he and his staff did this session. That work included his responsibilities as co-chair of the special committee on TAPS throughput and prime sponsorship of several measures that await a signature from the governor. Those measures include a bill requiring screening of newborns for congenital heart defects, a resolution requesting the North Pacific Fishery Management Council reduce the quantity of king salmon bycatch in trawl fisheries and a resolution urging Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, development, and production.
He also co-sponsored legislation on an in-state gas pipeline, to oppose genetically-engineered salmon, NPR-A legacy oil well awareness and clean up and laws to deal with abandoned and derelict vessels, among others.
“For the first time in a long time we helped improve the work ethic of a Legislature that had sort of been fumbling,” he said.
Micciche, now back at home in Soldotna, said he is planning to pursue further legislation on ways to reduce the energy costs in rural Alaska, tackle fishing issues including king salmon recovery, education and developing a five-year plan on state spending.
Also recently returned from Juneau, Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, praised Micciche for his work and laughed when asked if Micciche was really what some in the Alaska media and public painted him to be.
“Any time there is anything that someone can turn to a negative, unfortunately I guess that’s what sells newspapers because that is what they write on,” said the House Speaker. “The way I look at it is the people who elected Peter Micciche know for the most part that he works for ConocoPhillips.”
To that end, Micciche made no secret of his employment or the fact that he did not think it was a conflict of interest, even as he was running for the seat against former senator Tom Wagoner.
“The most important thing I am telling people is that I am putting my hand on the Bible for the people of Alaska just like I made a vow for the people of Soldotna,” Micciche told the Clarion in an August 2012 interview. “Everything else is just a job. It is unfortunate if people think in that manner that community servants should be neutralized from serving because of the other things they do for a living.”
Chenault said he gets the same guff — albeit to a lesser extent than Micciche this year — because of his oil industry background and connection to the construction industry.
“But if you look at my district, a majority of the people that come from my district make their livings off the oil industry,” Chenault said. “So should I excuse myself anytime any vote comes up on oil issues? I say no, because if I do that I’m not representing my constituents.”
In late March, the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics issued an advisory opinion that cleared Micciche of conflicts of interest as they relate to his employment in the commercial fishing and residential renting industries, and “employment in an industry principally engaged in making a profit from the use of natural resources.”
“The legislator’s current ownership of company stock does not prevent the legislator from voting on legislation or taking other legislative action, even where the interests of the industry and employer are concerned,” the ruling stated.
Despite the all-clear, Chenault said the “cheap shots” will persist. He said he is unsure how to change the conversation he says has nothing to do with the issue at hand.
“He didn’t just walk in there and say, ‘Hey, anything Conoco wants I’m going to get for them,’ because there were some issues there with tax credits and things that he said, ‘Hey, they don’t need this stuff. This stuff is a giveaway,’” Chenault said.
Micciche insists that he was prepared for the barrage of comments he received, but conceded on several occasions that he sought the tenured Chenault’s advice.
“I said, ‘Hey, I don’t pay much attention to ‘em,’” Chenault said.
Micciche said he came to realize that what was being alleged against him only served to thicken his skin and didn’t meet his goals of not playing party politics or reducing the parochialism of Juneau.
Micciche also points to his work on Senate Bill 21, an oil tax rewrite meant to spur North Slope production and exploration. He said he was the architect of its 35 percent base tax rate, which he said was the highest the Legislature had ever considered.
“I certainly had no one happy with me on the industry side and several committees tried to beat that tax rate down,” he said. “We worked hard behind the scenes and said, ‘Hey, we evaluated where we need to be to be competitive and we also want to reduce the fiscal impact on the state and still be competitive,’ and in my view the 35 percent was the correct place.”
Those who wanted to preserve ACES, Micciche said, were upset with the overall lower taxes the bill will bring, and those in the pro-industry crowd are upset because they wanted taxes slashed more.
“When you are thinking about whether or not you are doing the right thing, I guess having both extremes not particularly happy with you means that you are pretty close,” he said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.