Party split stalls Republican convention

Kyle Hopkins
Jim Lavrakas / Anchorage Daily News

Worried that Ron Paul supporters would overtake the state Republican party convention Saturday, outgoing party boss Randy Ruedrich succeeded in ending the meeting before it could begin.

The Anchorage gathering failed to reach the minimum number of delegates necessary to change party rules after Ruedrich urged Republican faithful to stay home. "My general guidance for them was to go fishing," he said later. Others likely spent the morning shopping or in the garden, he said.

The tactic made for a lonely convention floor at Anchorage Christian Schools gymnasium, frustrating Paul backers and tea party delegates, some of whom flew in from out of town for the convention.

"Hell yes, I'm disappointed. I came up here all the way from Craig," said Paul E. Dawson, a veteran who likes Paul's views on military non-intervention. Another delegate, from Juneau, said it cost his family $580 per ticket to return to Anchorage in hopes of resuming the convention.

Paul backers had won a surprise victory at a meeting of the state GOP in late April, installing one of their own -- Russ Millette of Anchorage -- as the new chairman. Party rules call for Millette to take office in February, though some Paul supporters are pushing for Ruedrich to transfer power right away.

Other critics argue there was no reason to hold yet another convention meeting. Valarie J. Malin of Juneau said Ruedrich appeared to end the April meeting early to avoid losing even more influence. "We should have just stayed an extra 20 minutes" and finished convention business, she said.

Ruedrich says he had to end the meeting because Team Paul had slowed the convention's progress to a crawl and the Republicans could not extend their contract with their hotel.

After 12 years of surviving ouster attempts and political scandals, Ruedrich's efforts to prevent a quorum Saturday showed he's still happy to play hardball. The tactic chilled the momentum of the Paul-tea party coalition, which in turn is accusing him of violating party rules.

Had enough delegates attended the event, the group might have voted on resolutions that illustrate the rift between the new and old guard Republicans, including one resolution calling for a censure of Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The state's highest ranking Republican, Murkowski waged a successful write-in campaign after losing the party nomination to tea party favorite Joe Miller in 2010. The censure resolution accused Murkowski of abandoning a promise to support the GOP nominee.

Another proposal, a rule change, called for Millette to replace Ruedrich immediately. Those initiatives will now be taken up by the State Central Committee at its next meeting, Ruedrich wrote in an email Saturday. The committee acts as the party's governing body between statewide conventions. Just a fraction of the members are Paul supporters.

Ruedrich was met with a round of jeers when party officials announced only 192 delegates were in attendance at the school gymnasium -- far short of the 275 they said were needed for a quorum.

"I have been appalled by your statements on the radio asking people not to show up," a woman yelled from the crowd.

"You're out of order! Thank you very much," Ruedrich replied from the stage. He quickly finished party convention business and called an end to the gathering.

Some establishment Republicans were concerned Paul backers would attempt to suspend party rules and hand Alaska's delegates at the August national convention to Paul rather than Mitt Romney and other presidential candidates.

Paul supporters, including Millette, said they have no such plans.

Evan Cutler, an organizer for Alaskans for Ron Paul 2012, stood before the crowd and accused Ruedrich of breaking national and state party rules by "going out of his way and discouraging delegates" from attending a party meeting. With the official GOP gathering canceled, Paul supporters and others planned to take up the party agenda at an advisory meeting, led by Millette, at a different church.

Ketchikan delegate Justin Carro, wearing a Ron Paul T-shirt, described those in attendance as a "Paul/tea party coalition."

The various party factions ultimately need to work together, Carro said. "You've got the old guard, they've got all the money. You've got the new guard, we've got all the people."

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