A committee of Alaska Republican Party leaders voted late Thursday night to oust incoming party chairman Russ Millette hours before he was to begin the job.
The move was a victory for old-guard Republicans who sought to prevent a candidate championed by Ron Paul supporters and Tea Party activists who flooded the party convention in April. Millette was to replace longtime Alaska GOP boss Randy Ruedrich, who has held the post since 2000.
Party rules chairman Frank McQueary filed a complaint against Millette, 67, accusing him of failing to raise money for the party and for Republican candidates in his temporary role as finance chairman. The party executive committee held an hours-long public hearing on the charges Thursday in the cramped GOP headquarters on Fireweed lane.
The committee, which acts like a board of directors for the party, emerged from a closed door meeting at about 9 p.m. to announce they had revoked Millette’s job as chairman-elect.
Without a word, Millette picked up his hat and walked out of the room. He saw it coming, he said.
“I expected them to find me guilty of whatever they wanted to find me guilty of. And that’s what they did. They don’t want me in their club,” he said.
During the hearing, McQueary argued that Millette has been an embarrassment to the party and misrepresented himself at the state convention by failing to say he was not registered as a Republican until weeks before the convention.
Millette has been registered as non-partisan and undeclared, as well as Republican, in the past three years.
“He has neither skills nor the aptitude to lead the party,” McQueary told party officials.
Millette later said he has been a Republican for at least 44 years. “I have too much self respect to become a Democrat,” he said.
Millette answered each of the complaints in a four-page letter distributed to committee members Thursday, saying the charges are an attempt to thwart the will of party delegates who voted for him in the contentious April convention. Millette vowed to resign if he didn’t do the job properly.
“’Til then, let me show what I can do,” he told the committee. “Let’s work together to get rid of Sen. Mark Begich, Sen. Hollis French, Sen. Bill Wielechowski.”
Among the many points of dispute: Millette has called for an audit of party finances and says officials have denied him access to records. Committee members said Millette had a key to the office, could review records and that party spending is posted online anyway in financial disclosures.
Millette supporters sitting in metal folding chairs scoffed in the back of the room.
“This is a Republican lynching, is what it is,” said a man in a Ron Paul ballcap.
The hearing began at about 5:30 p.m. and lasted more than three hours in a muggy party office decorated with pastel-colored political district maps and campaign signs. Ruedrich sat, shoeless, with his arms folded behind a desk as he presided over the hearings.
He has served as party chairman for nearly 13 years, surviving a series of scandals and challenges, including a $12,000 civil fine for mixing party business with a politically appointed state job. Party numbers swelled by more than 21,000 voters during his tenure.
The upheaval in Alaska’s GOP leadership comes at a time when a Republican-led caucus holds a supermajority of 30 legislators in the state House. Thirteen of 20 state senators are Republicans. The party is preparing to select a challenger to battle Begich in the 2014 elections.
Making his argument that Millette was unfit to lead the organization, McQueary described a party on a roll. “Nobody can hope to run in most districts in Alaska as anyone but a Republican and hope to get elected.”
Millette, meantime, was allied with Joe Miller, the tea party-backed U.S. Senate candidate who beat Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 Republican primary before losing to Murkowski’s historic write-in campaign in the general election.
Republicans first met on Jan. 17 to consider the complaints against Millette and a complaint filed by Ruedrich against incoming vice party chairwoman Debra Holle Brown. The executive committee delayed a vote after four hours of deliberations and decided to meet on Friday, the day Millette was scheduled to take office.
Ruedrich said the committee later voted to move the hearings to Thursday. That meant Millette would not yet be in office and, according to Ruedrich would not be eligible to vote on his own fate as party chairman.
Asked if the meeting date was changed to deny Millette a vote, Ruedrich said, “I don’t think that had a significant impact on anyone’s decision.”
Millette contends he should have been allowed to vote as a member of the executive committee and said he is challenging the date change, which he said violates party rules. He rejected Ruedrich’s claim that the meeting was changed because of scheduling conflicts.
“His reason, to me, is very lame. And also illegal,” Millette said in a phone interview Wednesday.
In another sign of inter-party discord, state GOP officials on Wednesday transferred tens of thousands of dollars from two campaign war chests to a sister group in Juneau. The money would have been out of reach of new party leadership had Millette assumed power.
“This transfer ensures that the principal ARP mission -- the election of Republicans -- is protected,” Ruedrich wrote in an email to party members Thursday morning.
The transfer moved a combined $34,500 from main party accounts to the Capital City Republicans and came at the request of party leaders in the Legislature, Ruedrich said.
Shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday executive committee was meeting behind closed doors to consider the complaint against Brown.
For now, it’s unclear who will serve as the next party boss.
Ruedrich said earlier in the day that he would not remain as chairman even if Millette was removed. The job may remain vacant until a Feb. 9 party meeting, said executive committee member Bruce Schulte.
“There’s no precedent for this,” he said.