Ethics take center stage in Senate debate

SENATE: Candidates hit few issues between questions of conduct.

October 24, 2010 

JUNEAU -- Ethics took center stage Sunday during a debate in which Alaska Senate hopeful Joe Miller said he was suspended for or docked three days' pay for violating ethics policy while working as a local government attorney in 2008.

This acknowledgment came less than two weeks after Miller told Alaska reporters he'd no longer answer questions about his past or background after alleging his personnel file from his time as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough had been illegally leaked.

After former borough Mayor Jim Whitaker said Miller was nearly fired for using government computers in a failed effort to oust the state GOP chairman in 2008, Miller told CNN he had violated ethics policy but said it was unrelated to his leaving the job in 2009 or to the issues of the current Senate race.

On Sunday, a day after a judge in Fairbanks ordered the borough to release Miller's personnel records, Miller said he had participated in a private poll during his lunch hour. He said it was a mistake that he's learned from. His attorney said no decision has been made on whether to fight the records' release.

Miller's critics have questioned his character in light of the issues stemming from his employment and disclosures that his family had received federal government benefits including Medicaid, unemployment and farm subsidies -- benefits the fiscal conservative has raised concerns with as a candidate.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who's running as a write-in candidate after losing the GOP primary to Miller, questioned his fitness to serve in the Senate -- a comment that drew loud jeers from the debate audience in Anchorage.

Miller said Alaskans probably know more about him than any other candidate. And he said that's probably a good thing because they "get to understand that, hey, they're electing somebody like them."

Miller has said he no longer receives benefits, said he's struggled like many other people have and has accused his opponents of trying to distract voters' attention from the real issues of the race to "petty" issues from his past.

"I've gone through trials. I've not always had a silver spoon," he said. "I've had challenges in life and that gives them an empathy for where I'm at, and I think that's a value that I bring to the table."

During a sometimes tense debate that also included Democrat Scott McAdams, Miller questioned Murkowski about her own past and a land deal in which she bought property in what some saw as a sweetheart deal. She had said she thought she'd paid fair market value and later sold it back.

She countered that her life has been open to scrutiny and took aim at Miller for being months-late in filing a required financial disclosure. She asked Miller what he thinks his fellow West Point graduates would think about the way he's conducted himself.

He said there are West Point graduates working on his campaign who know his "warts and all" and stand behind him "proudly."

He accused her campaign of working to dig up dirt on him and to "cheat" voters of a substantive debate on the issues facing the state and nation.

The candidates also spoke about their views on illegal immigration -- Miller believing Arizona had to take matters into its own hands because of the federal government's failure to act. Murkowski and McAdams supported enforcing laws currently on the books and opposed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

On campaign funding, McAdams vowed to never take money from a corporate PAC. Miller defended support he's received nationally from those within the tea party movement. Murkowski defended the support she's received from an independent PAC formed by Alaska Native corporations.

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