JUNEAU -- Sen. John Cowdery, who is under indictment for federal bribery charges, has resigned as chairman of the Legislative Council. He has not, however, stepped down from the Senate.
Cowdery, R-Anchorage, notified Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, of his decision in a letter on Monday. On Tuesday, Green appointed Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, who is a member of the Senate majority made up of six Republicans and nine Democrats
The council gained public attention recently for its prospective investigative role into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.
Lawmakers say they understand that Monegan and other commissioners serve at will, meaning they can be fired by Palin at any time.
But they want to know if Monegan was let go because he refused to fire a trooper who went through a messy divorce with Palin's sister.
Palin has said Monegan was fired because she wants the public safety department to move in a different direction; she says she welcomes the investigation.
Elton, who is completing his 12th year in office, said his first order of business is to meet with Pam Varni, director of Legislative Affairs, to receive updates on day-to-day operations and options for an independent investigator.
On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said he expected the council to hire an investigator soon.
"The potential decision for (the) council is simply, 'Do we appropriate money and how much?' " Elton said.
Federal prosecutors announced a two-count indictment against Cowdery two weeks ago. The 78-year-old lawmaker was in Juneau the day before the indictment but has not been in session since; he cites health reasons.
Prosecutors allege that Cowdery conspired with executives of oil field services company Veco Corp. to bribe another unnamed state senator for votes to support oil and gas legislation.
Calls for him to resign rang out shortly after the indictment was made public, specifically from Republican Minority Leader Gene Therriault and Palin.
Therriault, who leads a five-person minority caucus that does not include Cowdery, has long called for Cowdery's resignation since former Veco executives said during the trials of other lawmakers that Cowdery was part of their inner circle.
Cowdery has not resigned, even though frequent health problems have kept him away from Juneau.
Cowdery told Green in a letter that he was not well enough to continue with his responsibilities as the council chairman.
"The day-to-day operations of the committee and its oversight is a time intensive job that demands the full attention of the chairman to work smoothly and efficiently," Cowdery wrote to Green on Monday. "Due to my continuing health issues I feel I cannot fulfill the duties required of me to fully accomplish the goals of the Legislative Council."