Editor's note: A version of the following commentary was first featured in Make-A-Scene, a monthly community publication serving readers in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. It is the 12th and final installment in a series through which Kohring aims to tell his side of the federal probe of public corruption in Alaska.
As a guest on the TV program "Alaska Political Insider" earlier this year, host Dorene Lorenz observed that I was like a "phoenix" rising up after my personal disaster of the last several years. A phoenix, of course, is a symbol of rebirth and renewal and can symbolize someone "rising from the ashes." I was struck by this analogy as it never occurred to me. I've seen myself as having hit rock bottom and in survival mode since the horrific days when the government railroaded me into a loss at trial. Then it was the U.S. Marshals hauling me off to prison in shackles.
Since those dark days, I've been fighting a lonely battle to rebuild my good name and get reestablished in my community. I wish to report things are looking up.
I never cease to be amazed at the strong show of support. Of course not everyone backs me, as in politics there's never a shortage of opponents. But the percentage of those who continue to express kind, supportive words is remarkable. It's uplifting and inspires me to forge ahead. When I have moments of reflection from my worst days, someone always comes along and boosts my spirits with a nice greetings and firm handshake which reminds me folks haven't forgotten and are still in my corner. It's very heartening, even though it has been more than six years since my legal odyssey began.
My experiences seem to have burned a lasting impression in the minds of lots of people, many of whom are upset about my shoddy treatment by the Feds. One dear lady wrote me this week and said, "That whole thing made me so angry. I kept telling folks that it would come out to show you were innocent sooner or later. Little did we know the evilness that was involved." Others have expressed similar thoughts.
People often ask: What are your future plans? Many ask that I run for elective office again, that they miss not having strong, principled conservatives representing them, but mostly someone in office who actually listens and is one of "them." I always tried my best to be a good public servant, but will let others be the judge. I'm flattered by this and think that maybe the long hours, days and months of dedication to my constituents over the years was noticed and paid off. I feel as if I aged two years for every one I was in office, but the sacrifice was worth it.
As to my future plans, my priority is my family. My elderly folks need my help, so naturally and without hesitation I'm here for them. I consider it my life's highest honor. They've always been there for me, so I want to help them in their time of need and make their golden years comfortable. Most anyone would do the same for their own parents.
I've been squeezing in time writing a book manuscript of my legal and legislative experiences. More publications will hopefully follow. I'm also working on obtaining ministry credentials, something I've wanted to do well before I ever ran for the legislature. As a kid, I used to dream of being a missionary in Russia. I hope to become licensed and ordained and get involved in a church ministry in some capacity.
Another ambition is to continue my education. Twenty-five years ago as a graduate student, I began a doctoral program but never completed it as work and paying bills got in the way. Perhaps someday soon...
So my plate is full. In response to those who wish that I run for office again, all I can say is I'm honored and grateful for your confidence and will see where life takes me -- where I may possibly fit in. I've never been the politically ambitious type and had to be pushed by friends into running for the Alaska Legislature during my first campaign in 1994. I'll leave it up to God to guide me and see what doors are opened.
Positive Mental Attitude
While attending Dimond High in Anchorage many years ago where I played basketball, coach Clay Dluehosh, a brilliant strategist and tactician, used to drill into our heads the importance of a positive attitude. "PMA" as he called it, or positive mental attitude, was constantly stressed, which I mostly credit with our winning the state title my senior year, 1976.
We overcame adversity to win at the end when it most counted after a mid-season tailspin. PMA is something I've learned to integrate into my life and from which I still benefit decades later. It's what got me through the terrible moment of hearing the word "guilty" in court while the truth was suppressed by cheating prosecutors. It's what enabled me to face an angry, vengeful judge at sentencing. And it helped me endure the frightening uncertain first days of being locked up in prison, with the prospect of spending years behind bars until U.S. Attorney General Holder intervened and called for my early release after it was revealed prosecutors illegally concealed evidence which would have exonerated me.
It is my faith in God that has mostly sustained me. Some have ridiculed me by claiming I suddenly turned to God when my legal troubles began and I was threatened by the government with over a half-century in prison for the terrible "crime" of accepting a $100 gift from former friend and oil services company CEO Bill Allen to buy my little step-daughter an Easter basket and eggs. This was the central issue which the government twisted and blew out of proportion with four ridiculous felony charges in their zeal to nail a politician.
Lots of people indeed turn to God when faced with serious life troubles -- which is a good thing, for otherwise they may never do so. But in my case, I was a Christian for many years before all of that happened. I just didn't wear it on my sleeve as lots of politicians do. Many in the Legislature practically shout from the rooftops that "Hey world, please notice I'm a Christian," as if seeking the religious vote and to appease those of faith. I've even witnessed the typical mad scramble of politicians stumbling over each other vying to be the one selected to deliver the day's opening prayer on the House and Senate Floors in front of the television cameras.
It's downright silly. I preferred to quietly live my life as a Christian and let people decide for themselves who I am and what's in my heart. For the record, I was "saved" and accepted Christ into my life in June 1965 at the old Sunny Knik Bible Camp on Knik Lake outside Wasilla as a six-year-old. Years later as an adult, I was baptized at the Anchorage Baptist Temple -- my expression to the world of my faith. I consider my commitment to God as most important in my life. Family is a very close second.
Enough to drive a man crazy...
I have lots of reasons to feel great sadness, but I refuse to go down that road. I could mope over being devastated financially and on the verge of bankruptcy to this day while living hand-to-mouth because my legal expenses were extraordinary and every dollar to my name sapped. I continue to have major debts from the fiasco which I'll carry for years to come.
I could feel bummed over my beautiful wife leaving me out of fear that the FBI would falsely accuse her as they did me (we've always and continue to be on excellent terms), so she felt it best to maintain her distance, right or wrong. When FBI thugs arrive at the doorstep of a legal immigrant and U.S. citizen who vividly remembers the days of the notorious Russian KGB, it can be very intimidating.
I could stress over the thought of being stripped of my livelihood and the career I dedicated myself to building for over 20 years. Or I could stew over the government prosecutors committing illegal acts by hiding evidence during my trial along with a compliant judge who refused to step down despite his wife being my biggest political adversary.
It's enough to drive a man crazy if he dwells on it too much and lets it get to him. It would not be productive to waste my life and fritter away my valuable time thinking about it, at least too much. I'm writing to document my experiences and to hold those accountable who did me wrong through my words. It's like opening the valve on a pressure cooker, a good stress release to get things off my chest.
Aside from that, I'm reaching deep down, relying on God for inner strength and pulling myself up by the bootstraps. I'm also working hard to forgive those who've deliberately harmed me, no matter how egregious. I'm prepared to forgive over time, but will never forget.
Hope to inspire
Given my aspirations and plans for the future, brooding and feeling sorry for myself is not an option. While my life may have been devastated, it's by no means over. I'm philosophical and realize it's time to move on. I look forward to the months and years ahead with great optimism as the future looks bright. Life is short and I intend to make the best of it and live it to the fullest. Besides, what happened to me was only a snapshot in time, a blink of the eye in the big picture and something I can't go back and change anyway. Furthermore, I would be thrilled if my experiences and striving to rise above it all could serve as an inspiration to others facing tough times. Even as a witness to my faith.
I hope to see many more of you in and about the community. If you spot me walking around, please say hello. I tower over most, so I'm hard to miss! You can also reach me at vkohring(at)gmail.com and on Facebook. It would be great to hear from you. It has been a pleasure writing my monthly column these past twelve months about my legal and legislative experiences. I wish to publicly thank Amanda Coyne and Alaska Dispatch for the opportunity to express my views in these pages. Also, please watch for my book, which hopefully will be published in the near future.
It was my honor serving you during my years in office. Alaska is a wonderful place to live, especially Wasilla and the Matanuska Valley. Thank you again for your support and may God bless you and your family.
Vic Kohring represented Wasilla, Chugiak and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in the Alaska House of Representatives. He was first elected in 1994 and resigned in 2007. He can be reached on Facebook. His blog is available at www.simplesite.com/vickohring.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.