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Breaking up and making up at Alaska Republican Party (re)convention

GOP delegate Andy Deering speaking at the GOP splinter meeting, June 9, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Jerry Ward at the GOP splinter meeting, June 9, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
GOP splinter meeting, June 9, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Russ Millette at the GOP splinter meeting. June 9, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Evan Cutler at the GOP Splinter meeting, June 9, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo

If you thought that the inner squabbling and drama that has taken over the Alaska Republican Party was over after April’s dramatic and squabbling party convention, think again.

The party that for years now has been known for its discipline and acquiescence to authority was at it again Saturday morning at the school attached to the Anchorage Baptist Temple, and then again later in the day at a church in downtown Anchorage, where among other things, they voted to censure U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and to deny state GOP funds to certain state senators.

Saturday’s reconvening was the brainchild of Russ Millette, Alaska’s next chair of the Alaska GOP. He put out a call for state Republicans to finish what they started at the tumultuous state GOP convention in late April.

Millette is a supporter of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. With the help of failed 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, Millette captured the hearts and minds of Alaska's Paul supporters and dissatisfied Republicans to win the state GOP chairmanship at the April convention.

But the saga over who will take control of the party and when continued Saturday as GOP delegates from across the state reconvened the convention. It started in the morning, when shortly after they arrived at the Anchorage Baptist Temple school, they were told to go home by outgoing party chairman Randy Ruedrich.

Only 191 delegates showed up. The party needed 275 to form a quorum. Thus, official party business could not be conducted, Ruedrich concluded, rather satisfactorily.

Indeed, Ruedrich and others in the party had been encouraging delegates not to show up so the party couldn’t conduct official business. Such business would have involved ousting him immediately as chair, instead of waiting until Feb. 13, when Millette is scheduled to take over Ruedrich's post.

In an attempt to avoid having a quorum, Ruedrich himself had suggested to delegates that instead of attending Saturday’s convention, they “go fishing.” Other party members had sent emails and placed phone calls to urge delegates to skip Saturday’s meeting.

After Ruedrich gaveled out Saturday morning, there were the predictable boos, the occasional shouts, accusations of disenfranchisement, and threats of a lawsuit against Ruedrich.

The group, what was left of it anyway, then decided to meet again at a church in downtown Anchorage Saturday afternoon to continue unsanctioned party business.

At the very least, the thinking went, those who spent hundreds of dollars coming to Anchorage from other areas of the state for the reconvening would be able to spend the rest of the day having a voice with others who feel as disenfranchised as they do.

Doing away with dynasties

One of the first points of business for the 100 or so in the church’s basement was to elect former state lawmaker Jerry Ward, who has a long and sundry history in Alaska politics, to run the meeting.

Then they needed a name and a purpose. After some debate, “The Committee to Help the Alaska Republican Party,” was chosen. Its purpose: to send recommendations on party rule changes and other issues to the state central committee for consideration.

After the name was chosen, is was debated whether members of the media -- which would be this reporter and a photographer -- would be allowed to stay in the room. Rebecca Logan, who manages the pro-oil industry group Alaska Support Industry Alliance, among a few others, were against it. 

Ward, who has not been treated particularly kindly by the press, reassured the group that it was OK. The reporter and photographer were allowed to stay, and then they got down to business.

Among other things, the group voted to change the way delegate fees are paid and changed the so-called "dynasty rule," which keeps a new party chair waiting eight months before he takes his seat.

They also voted on a resolution brought by Logan that the party not give campaign contributions to any state senators who had joined the Senate bipartisan collation -- the coalition that’s been in the majority since 2007 and didn’t go far enough in Gov. Sean Parnell’s mind to “reform” oil taxes.

This recommendation came out of the natural resources committee of the Republican Party, chaired by Logan, who fought for it on the floor.

If the rules are enacted by the central committee, the six senators who would be denied party funds include such Republican stalwarts as Kevin Meyer and Tom Wagoner, the latter a former opponent of Ward's.

Censuring fellow Republican politicians

The group also voted to censure U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski for joining “far left interest groups” and “maliciously attacking” Joe Miller, who ran as a tea party candidate in the 2010 Senate race, but lost in the general election to Murkowski's write-in campaign.

Censuring didn’t stop with Murkowski. The group also voted to censure a handful of Republican Party officials who weren’t in the room.

It’s unclear -- as some pointed out -- what any of this will do to smooth tensions between the two factions of the party.

Such tensions have been so high that Millette recently sent an email to supporters, claiming that his wife is “concerned about my physical safety, well being and wholeness.” (Watchers of GOP politics will remember in 2008 how Miller, who also had aspirations of taking over the party, believed Ruedrich was out to hurt him). In an interview Saturday, Millette said he isn’t worried about his safety. The 66-year-old said he had a hip operation recently and was worried about falling on the floor.

Frank McQueary, the assistant treasurer of the Alaska GOP, went as far as to channel Vice President Spiro Agnew’s affinity for alliteration in an email sent to supporters: “There has been a lot of pretentious persiflage precipitated by the preposterous perception that Randy Ruedrich is somehow responsible whenever one of the anointed Ron Paulinistas does something stupid,” he wrote. 

Citizens United is coming!

Neither did Saturday's meetings portend a smooth upcoming election cycle, one of the more important ones in the state’s history. Because of redistricting, 59 of 60 legislative seats are up for election.

But then again, it is possible special interests, such as oil industry supporters, will supersede the party and determine on their own the outcome of the elections.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission said on Friday that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Citizens United will apply to the upcoming state elections. The decision allows unlimited spending by groups and PACs.

Gov. Parnell, a Republican, has been pushing for nearly $2 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry. He lost the fight during this spring’s legislative session, but doesn't intend to give up. Some speculate anti-tax groups, such as the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition and the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, will come out spending huge sums of money to ensure next year that the Alaska Legislature is made up of lawmakers who favor Parnell's tax breaks for the state’s lifeblood industry.

Rebecca Logan, the manager of the Alliance, said on her way out the door Saturday that APOC's decision was a “gift” for her group and that the Alliance has “big plans” this election year.

But most of those in attendence didn't seem to catch what she was saying. They weren't there to discuss oil taxes. They were there to have a voice about party politics, one that had been denied them. Many were smiling as they were leaving the room. 

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda@alaskadispatch.com.