Two Top Aides to Alaska’s Gov. Hickel Resign
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ Two of Gov. Walter J. Hickel’s closest advisers announced their resignations today, but said their decision was unrelated to a ethics controversy over Hickel’s ownership of stock in a pipeline company.
Press secretary Eric Rehmann and special assistant James Rockwell said they were leaving to start a trading company in Vietnam.
″We’re certainly not abandoning ship,″ Rockwell said. ″There’s a time for everything. It’s time right now to do this.″
State conflict-of-interest charges against Hickel could be quickly dismissed under a proposed settlement being considered today by the state Personnel Board.
Hickel has agreed to give away stock in Yukon Pacific Corp., which would benefit from a natural gas pipeline he has promoted.
In the settlement announced Dec. 12, Hickel does not contest the conflict- of-interest allegations and agrees to set up a charitable foundation to which he would donate his 12 percent share of the company.
Yukon Pacific stock is not openly traded. A largely arbitrary price of $250 a share was set in 1988 for a stock split among shareholders. That price would value Hickel’s stock at nearly $10 million.
Hickel founded Anchorage-based Yukon Pacific nearly 10 years ago to build the proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline and market the state’s gas.
The governor declined to be interviewed about the resignations, but indicated in a statement that he had no hard feelings.
″They were two energetic young men who both added a lot to our office,″ Hickel said. ″Filling the void will be very difficult to do, but I wish them both well in their adventure in Southeast Asia.″
Rehmann and Rockwell revealed their plans in interviews Thursday and Sunday with The Associated Press. They spoke on condition that word of their resignations not be published before today.
After a 10-day trip to Vietnam last month, Rockwell and Rehmann decided to form a trading company even though the country has been under a U.S. trade embargo since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
″We hope to pave the way so when the embargo comes down, we’ll be able to go right away,″ Rehmann said. ″We hope to do a lot of the groundwork.″
Among the opportunities they are considering is a joint venture to buy and upgrade three waterfront hotels that would cater to former American soldiers.
Rehmann, 27, and Rockwell, 30, were Hickel’s youngest top-level advisers. Rehmann was formerly a spokesman for federal Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, while Rockwell led a small group that persuaded Hickel to run for governor again in late 1990, 21 years after he left office to serve as President Nixon’s interior secretary.