“There’s always someone pointing out that the world would be a better place if they were in charge,” said Randy Ruedrich, longtime and outgoing chairman of the Alaska Republican Party.
Ruedrich said those words on Saturday night as he was about to finish presiding over his last party convention in Alaska, held at Anchorage’s Hilton. A new chairman was about to be announced, signaling a sea change in the Alaska GOP.
This weekend, it was the young, sometimes bedraggled but always idealstic and not always so polite, supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul who were certain that if they were in charge of the party, Alaska and the country would be a better place.
And now they’ll get their chance to prove it.
After at least 12 years of the Alaska GOP being run by what those party newcomers call “establishment Republicans,” a new force is taking over: Alaska Republicans voted Russ Millette as the party’s new chairman and Debra Holle Brown as co-chair. They are both supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Millette, 66, has lived off and on in Alaska, most recently returning to the state in 2005. He will assume chair of the state GOP at the start of 2013. But for now, he will serve as the party’s finance chairman.
Ruedrich, an old-school Republican who had held the job of chairman since 2000, chose not to run again, leaving the field wide open. Some party loyalists had expected that either Alaska GOP favorites Judy Eledge or Bruce Schulte would win the chairmanship, particularly after Schulte opted out to give more power to Eledge’s nomination.
But after the party delegates’ votes were tallied Saturday evening, a cheer erupted from Paul supporters on the second floor of the Hilton. Others looked crestfallen. Some blamed failed senatorial candidate Joe Miller and his wife, Kathleen, who spent much of their time Saturday huddled with Paul supporters. Miller was largely expected to jockey for a party leadership position, but it was Kathleen who, sporting a Ron Paul sticker, won a seat on Alaska’s GOP Electoral College.
The Millers were nowhere to be found at the party afterwards at Ron Paul’s Alaska campaign headquarters in downtown Anchorage, where both Millette and Brown spoke to supporters.
“They tried every maneuver they could, but God prevailed,” Millette told the crowd, many who were half his age or younger.
To be sure, not all Paul supporters believe in God, but a certain alliance between the tea party and Paulites was necessary for an upset in GOP politics on the Last Frontier, as evidenced by Joe Miller backers aligning with Paul supporters at this weekend’s convention. And so, regardless of religious beliefs, they cheered for Millette.
Who is Russ Millette?
Millete is little known in Alaska’s political circles, although he said in an Alaska Dispatch interview that he’s been working in politics since 1964, the year he volunteered for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s campaign.
Millete came to Alaska in 1975, left the state in the 1990s, and returned in 2005. His jobs have ranged from substitute teacher to youth minister. The choice to enter politics as a party official, he said, was the result of a “tug from God.”
Asked what he’d like to see changed in the party, Millette speaks as a newly elected official would, talking up government transparency and the need to elect true conservatives. But like the man on the ticket he supports, his idea of “true conservatives” differs at least on the face of it from what the old guard considers conservative.
Example: Millette does not support a federal law that would define marriage between a man and a woman. That, he said, should be left up to the states. The same is true with abortion, and just about any other hot-button social issue.
It remains to be seen how the party will react to Millete’s victory. Alliances on such issues have, in large part, been the thread woven through the various party factions over the years. Even though his tenure has been riddled with controversy, Ruedrich by and large has been able to keep all those factions in line and has been able to keep the state ruby red.
Bringing together "diverse and seemingly implacable factions for the unified purpose of electing Republicans" was, according to former Republican Party lawyer and Ruedrich's friend Bill Large a "a monumental task."
It was "even more amazing that Randy kept it all together for so long," Large said.
On Saturday, Ruedrich received more than one standing ovation for his efforts.
State GOP funds and mistrust?
Ruedrich and others in charge of the Alaska Republican Party understood what the ramifications might be if Millette won the chairmanship.
Ruedrich confirmed Saturday that the state GOP transferred all, or nearly all, of its roughly $100,000 to the local Capital City Republicans in Juneau. The party did that because legislators were “concerned,” said Ruedrich, before ending the interview to tend to party business.
They are presumably concerned that Millette might hold back some of that money from their election efforts.
Millette won’t officially become chairman for eight months. He will, however, serve as the party’s finance chairman immediately.
At the party dominated by Ron Paul supporters following the vote Saturday night, Millette was asked what he planned on doing about the funds that had been transferred to Juneau. “We’ll deal with that later,” he said.
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Correction: The original story said that Millette was 67. He will be 67 in four months. However, he is currently 66. Also, Debra Holle Brown's name has been corrected.