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Will Peter Goldberg heal fractured Alaska Republican Party?

Jerzy Shedlock
An aerial view of Homer, Alaska, the town at "the end of the road," but is it the end for conflicts over Alaska Republican Party leadership that began years ago? Loren Holmes photo

The Alaska Republican Party’s State Central Committee voted Saturday in Homer to uphold two decisions that left the party without a clear leader for more than a month. Former party chairs Russ Millette and Debbie Brown each appealed complaints to the committee but failed to overturn the decisions -- neither of them will hold the top spot.

Instead, standing chairman Peter Goldberg, who has been accused of trying to purge the party of Christians, has permanently taken the position.

In choosing Goldberg, the central committee determined party rules had been followed when booting Brown and Millette.

Goldberg, a retired military officer who resides in Eagle River, was a minor player in Republican politics until this year. The newly minted Alaska GOP leader has done almost nothing but try to raise money since he stepped in, however.

The party also elected a new vice chair, Dave Eichler, a North Pole dentist.

Brown had her title as party chair stripped after the State Executive Committee decided she hadn’t done enough during her short tenure to raise money. She fervently argued she’d done everything the party asked; she was disappointed by the committee’s decision, she said outside the conference room of Land’s End Resort, an inn at the very tip of the Homer Spit, a narrow gravel peninsula that juts into Kachemak Bay and during summer often bustles with activity.

“The appeal went as expected,” she said. “It was hard to stand in front of friends and acquaintances to defend myself. The party needs to focus on more important issues.”

Millette’s reaction was much the same. “I stuck to my guns,” he said, arguing the party’s rules don’t specify how much money the chair is required to raise. He said he believes the party kicked him out because he demanded to see financial records. The chair cannot run the party without knowing where the money is going, he said.

How we got here, short version

Millette came to power in April 2012. Ron Paul supporters overwhelmed last year’s state meeting when the party held elections to replace longtime leader Randy Ruedrich, who last spring decided he'd spent enough time wrangling rebellious Republicans and abandoned the job.

Millette was to take over the reigns of the party at the start of the year. That didn’t happen. During a Jan. 31 meeting at the party’s headquarters in Anchorage, Millette and his supporters spent hours arguing with the members of the party’s executive committee, who decided to sack him.

The committee decided to oust Millette because he failed to raise funds for the party. Brown, the vice-chair elect, was grilled over Kenai Peninsula regional party finances at the same meeting. But she ended up being named the new leader of Alaska’s most powerful political party.

About two months later, the GOP’s executive committee had had enough of Brown as well. It also ousted her, claiming that she ignored her duties and, like Millette, wasn’t adequately fundraising. Then came chair number three, Goldberg, who had been elected vice chair in January after Brown was named chair.

Things continued in a queer direction when Brown and Goldberg -- both still named leader of Alaska's Republicans -- traveled to Hollywood for the Republican National Committee convention. National party officials decided neither of them would be allowed to take a seat and represent Alaska during the meeting.

Brown: ‘A good Republican’

The weather was sunny and picturesque Kachemak Bay was calm, but Brown’s arguments in Homer on Saturday for keeping the top spot began on rough waters. On a day many Southcentral Alaskans would call the first day of summer, Brown argued with the moderator, long-time Fairbanks Republican Ralph Seekins, over the admittance of “new evidence.”

“It’s not a re-trial,” Seekins said referring to Brown’s original hearing that resulted in her removal. After a tiresome 15 minutes of multiple attempts to count the votes, the party’s central committee members voted to allow Brown to make her case with new materials.

When she began her appeal, Brown apologized for the awkwardness of the start of the appeal, then proceeded to expound on her credentials -- Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member, American Red Cross administrator, small business owner, etc. First and foremost, she’s always been a registered Republican, she said.

Bruce Schulte, District 21 chairman and executive committee member, took the stand following Brown’s introduction, as he submitted the complaint against her. Ultimately, Brown’s commitment to the party is commendable, he said, but she failed to raise funds.

“I was initially supportive but (Brown) showed her incompetence as time moved on,” Schulte said.

Brown disagreed. She referred to her efforts as a member of the host committee for the Alaska Arctic Winter Games in 2006. She helped raise millions, she said.

She didn’t detail fundraising efforts during her time as chairwoman. Rather, she argued she’s put in “endless hours” of volunteer time and traveled to the national committee meeting on her own dime.

“I’m a good Republican. Anything that needs to be done, I’ve been doing it,” Brown said. “Dismiss this complaint.”

During his rebuttal, Schulte said many executive committee members raised concerns about Brown’s ability to lead following her election. When he raised concerns about the party’s lack of money, Brown wasn’t concerned, he said.

According to Schulte’s version of events, he gave Brown a chance to set a personal fundraising goal, which she refused to do.

Schulte’s words were a misrepresentation of the truth, Brown said. Instead, she argued her removal was a personal attack and a reflection of the misdirection of the Alaska Republican Party.

“If they don’t prefer your style, if you’re a woman, they’ll throw you out,” Brown said. What’s happening in Alaska doesn’t reflect the national GOP’s grassroots efforts; the state party isn’t being inclusive, she said.

Those statements are unfounded, Schulte replied.

Millette's attempted audit

Millette’s appeal came earlier Saturday morning. He stuck to the original arguments he’s had since the party ousted him in late January.

The party failed to cooperate with him since the get-go, he said. Complaints against him center on accusations that Millette failed to raise funds, but the he sees it differently.

The party sabotaged Millette’s transition to leadership, he maintains. For example, when Ruedrich stepped down, he refused to provide financial records needed to conduct the party’s business. Millette also was denied access to tools used for fundraising, he said.

“They didn’t want me to see the records, as if they were hiding something,” Millette said. “I wanted to do the right thing. The executive committee does not.”

The party refused to hand over a list of past and present donors, which contains emails, telephone numbers and addresses.

During his more than decade as chair, Ruedrich developed that list, but according to Millette’s camp, the former chair failed to do as little as introduce Millette to party supporters with cash.

The central committee apparently disagreed with Millette’s assessment. They voted by a “substantial majority” to uphold the executive committee’s decision to remove him as leader.

Ob la di, ob la da

‘Life goes on,” said both of the former chairs. They both expressed optimism about the future of their personal endeavors, as well as the future of the Alaska Republican Party.

Millette said he’s still in the party, but he’ll continue the fight for financial records. Somebody has to do what’s right, he said.

Brown said she would be a Republican until she thinks there’s “no hope left.”

Although she’s not in a leadership position anymore, she said, she remains an American with the right to free speech, and she will use that right to endorse the best national candidate for the party.

Some party members believe Brown came to power thanks to a percentage of the party voters staying home while others with a “narrow focus” came out and voted for the dark horse candidate. But Brown said she was in support of Mitt Romney, Republican presidential frontrunner in 2012. She said she was vocal about that support, too.

“And I’ll continue to work for the party in the most effective way I can,” she said. “I do it out of love.”

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com