Joe Miller, the tea party conservative who blew open Alaska's 2010 U.S. Senate race, made a rare public appearance in Anchorage this week before a small group of university students and tea partiers as he prepares to officially launch his latest campaign.
Miller is making a second bid for Senate, and his central messages are the same: Federal spending is out of control, and federal power is reaching beyond what is allowed in the U.S. Constitution.
He talked Thursday evening about "illegal aliens" driving down wages and government surveillance of private lives, lobbying and campaign spending, the Affordable Care Act and abortion. He's against both the latter two.
"A lot of us can't figure out how you can have a surveillance state that's so effective in gathering a tremendous amount of information out of each one of us but can't even build a simple website so that the signup for Obamacare can occur," he told the students.
This time he's one of three Republicans trying to win the August primary and get a shot at incumbent Democrat Mark Begich. Four years ago, he beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary only to have her defeat him in a write-in campaign.
Miller has been low-profile so far. He hasn't appeared at candidate forums with the other leading Republicans, former natural resources commissioner Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, run advertisements or spoken to many groups.
Before his talk Thursday evening at the University of Alaska Anchorage student union, Miller said he has plenty of time to make his case over the next four months and that voters don't like campaigns that stretch over years. He said he's been working the grass roots and that core support is still there.
"I'm an anti-establishment candidate. That clearly is a major distinction between myself and the other two Republicans in the race," Miller said.
Miller spoke to and answered questions from a mixed crowd of about 25 students and older residents, some of whom said they aligned with tea party principles. The event was sponsored by UAA's Political Science Association, College Republicans, and Young Americans for Liberty.
"Debt's the most immediate threat that's on the horizon," Miller said. The nation's debt is now $17 trillion, and that's a few trillion more than four years ago, he said.
On government surveillance of individuals' phone calls and Internet activity, Miller said the revelations by whistle blowers are troubling.
"You have a government that knows not just who you talk to, the length of your calls where you're at, but also practically knows how you think," he said.
Calvin Henry, 29 and a UAA political science student, asked Miller his views on whether President Obama, as the nation's chief executive, was exerting power beyond what founding fathers wanted.
Absolutely, Miller responded, referring to testimony from a U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing in February.
"Constitutional scholars on both sides of the aisle are suggesting we are at a point of constitutional crisis," Miller said. President Obama has issued numerous executive orders that in effect make new law or allow existing law to be ignored, Miller said.
"Thirty-seven times I think now Obama has violated the law with respect to the implementation of Obamacare because he's king. I mean I thought he was president," Miller said.
Henry said afterwards that he moved to Alaska after the 2010 election and didn't expect to like Miller based on what he had heard about it. He thought the Miller event was going to be "a joke and a waste of time." But Miller's constitutional knowledge and depth won him over, he said.
Retired physician David Williams, who described himself later as a tea party libertarian, asked why there weren't calls for impeachment.
Probably the practicality of it, Miller said.
"I know you can't convict but at least put a shot across the bow," Williams said.
Ceezar Martinson, 22 and vice president of the Political Science Association, asked whether the country needed a lifetime ban on members of congress becoming lobbyists to prevent large corporations from getting government bailouts.
"I think the crony capitalist state is a huge problem," Miller said. He said he had no opposition to a lifetime ban but that wouldn't fix the problem. "Right now we've got a system of government that basically delivers rewards to certain entities in society, call it the ruling class, whatever you will."
Another political science student, Erin Conlon, 32, asked his view of the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision that allows corporations and unions to donate unlimited amounts to campaign groups though not directly to candidates.
Miller said individuals should be allowed to spend what they want as a free speech right, but he has concerns with spending by corporations because they can hide where the money comes from.
"The sourcing of funds, I think, has to be identified," he said.
Miller also was asked if he would vow to support whoever wins the Republican primary. If he lost but kept running as a third-party or independent candidate, that could help Begich.
Interesting question, Miller said, considering that when he beat Murkowski in 2010, she stayed in the race as a Republican write-in.
That's something Treadwell and Sullivan should answer, he said.
Treadwell will support the GOP primary winner, his campaign said.
Sullivan's campaign didn't respond to the question Friday.
"My ultimate goal is not to get rid of Begich," Miller said. "It's to reverse the course of this country." And, he said, party elites are part of the problem.
Miller said he plans to officially kick off his campaign April 21 in Wasilla.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER