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Alaska GOP drama results in chairwoman's ouster

The Alaska Republican Party's state executive committee met in the parking lot of the party headquarters in Anchorage on Monday after chairwoman Debbie Brown changed the locks and left the state. Brown was later fired Monday night, and Peter Goldberg took over at state party chairman. Loren Holmes photo

Locked out of the less-than-lavish headquarters of the Alaska Republican Party in a snowstorm, state leaders of the Grand Old Party adjourned to a comfortable, Midtown Anchorage office complex Monday evening and decided they’d had enough of the antics of party chairwoman Debbie Brown.

Officially, money -- or the lack thereof -- was the reason for Brown’s ouster. Like recently fired predecessor Russ Millette, who never officially made it into the chairman’s seat, Brown was accused of being unable to raise any.

Money that is. She seemed plenty good at raising the blood pressure of the party leadership.

First she tried to fire members of the party’s state executive committee. When they refused to go, she changed the locks on the party headquarters in Midtown Anchorage and left the state. When the executive committee called her up on charges of failure to meet her responsibilities as chair, she refused to appear.

Reports as to her whereabouts varied, but there seemed agreement she was still out of state, apparently on vacation or preparing for the Republican National Committee meeting in Hollywood, or both. Republican national committeeman Ralph Seekins from Fairbanks noted the RNC meeting starts Wednesday.

Much discussion was had about the whereabouts of Brown, normally a resident of Kasilof on the Kenai Peninsula, and the appearances of trying her in absentia. Attorney Wayne Anthony Ross -- or WAR, as he is commonly know -- sent the executive committee a wordy, six-page letter citing his lengthy party credentials, questioning the fairness of the hearing, and warning the actions “by these members who I call the ‘old guard led by our former chairman (Randy Ruderich), seriously lessen the credibility and effectiveness of the RPA to Republicans.”

The shortest-serving attorney general in Alaska history, WAR did not, however, show up to represent Brown, nor did anyone else. WAR did represent Millette before the executive committee booted him for the same reason Brown was shown the door Monday night -- the inability to separate potential party donors from their cash.

Once the overstuffed Batman and lady Robin of Ron Paul for President forces in Alaska, Millette and Brown were voted into power at a contentious state Republican convention last April. It was all downhill from there.

The party of Abraham Lincoln shortly thereafter engaged in its own war, which could be considered civil in that no shots were fired, although there were some clear threats being made by Paul supporters while the GOP leadership was huddled in an alcove outside the locked door of the dumpy Fireweed Avenue offices Monday trying to decide where to reconvene.

The decision was to adjourn the outdoor meeting to the more comfortable, glass-enclosed conference room of an Anchorage engineering firm and talk things over, and talk and talk and talk. A meeting that began at 5:30 p.m. ran until after 10 p.m.

There was a public review of Brown’s performance, a trial of sorts, followed by the private deliberations of the executive committee acting as a jury. Bruce Schulte, a committee member, led the prosecution.

He suggested the party barely lacked the money to pay rent on its Anchorage office and said he’d met with Brown to tell her she’d have his support if she just came up with a fundraising plan. He said she showed him the door instead.

Party leaders said it appeared Brown had been able to raise less than $1,000 since taking over from Millette as chair of the Alaska GOP. There seemed unanimous agreement that just wouldn’t cut it, given the monthly costs of about $4,000.

But there was obvious concern about the executive committee being seen as some sort of kangaroo court out to railroad Brown because of her association with the Rand crowd.

“It’s not ideological,” Schulte argued, pointing out the primary goal of the party chairman is to get Republicans elected to office, and getting elected to office in America today is about having the money to run a campaign.

“That’s really the beginning, the middle of the end of the whole thing,” he said.

Not only had Brown failed as a fundraiser, he said, she had driven longtime contributors away from the party by suggesting fellow Republicans were corrupt. He noted he was at a call-center trying to get out the vote for Anchorage municipal candidates with Republican leanings earlier this month “while she’s on the radio trash-talking the party.”

Meeting chair Peter Goldberg, the state GOP’s vice party chair, quickly gaveled Schulte out of order on that remark, saying he should stick to the charges against Brown, all of which predated this month. Goldberg, a retired colonel, was trying his best to be fair and even opened the floor to some comments by non-committee members.

Tom Idleman, a Ron Paul supporter, quickly rose to defend Brown, saying she wasn’t getting a fair shake and that the vote of the people was being denied by the party leadership.

“That (April 2012 vote) wasn’t just all us Ron Pauler’s,” he said. “This is evil.”

State GOP leaders have tried to point out that the party isn’t exactly a democracy. It’s more like a club or a business. As a business, its business is getting Republicans elected to office -- and that takes money.

Goldberg made immediate note of the fact after he announced Brown’s removal and his ascension to the post of chairman. He unveiled several new fundraising plans after making a short statement about his own motivations.

“There were a lot of allegations made that what was going to happen tonight, what did happen, was a coup,” he said, stressing that was not the case. He claimed to have no allegiances to any group in the Alaska fight. He painted himself as a draftee trying to pull the party together.

“I did not run for this,” he said. “It has fallen into my lap.”

He suggested to the rest of the executive committee that if they want to get rid of him, “make a motion, take a vote.” Should the vote go against him, he said, he would be gone in the minute.

And then he said something sure to endear him to many an Alaskan:

“This is not a power grab on my part. I’m not in this for the power. I came back to Alaska to hunt and fish.”

How much of that he’ll have time to do in his new post remains to be seen.

Millette is appealing his ouster to the Republican statewide steering committee when it meets in Homer in late May. Goldberg said the executive committee is sending Brown a letter suggesting she should do likewise if she believes she was treated unfairly.

Both the committee and the few Brown supporters who attended the meeting seemed to agree it is time for the party to start healing, but it remains to be seen whether that is possible.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com