AD Main Menu

Conference call hints at Joe Miller's role in Alaska GOP shake-up

Amanda CoyneThe New York Times
Joshua Saul photo

Former Alaska U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller and Ron Paul supporter Russ Millette jointly held a conference call on Thursday night that was intended to introduce Millette as the new chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska. 

Millette, a political outsider who supports Paul in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, won a vote of delegates at Alaska's GOP convention in late April that catapulted him to the head of the state Republican Party after long-time head Randy Ruedrich announced he was not going to run for reelection. Debra Holle Brown, another Ron Paul supporter, won the vice-chair seat.

The move stunned Alaska's political circles, particularly since some of those who helped Millette win the chairman's gavel subsequently booed U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, when the pair spoke to the party at the convention.

KFQD's Dave Steiren has the full audio of the call, which he meted out on Friday on his show, the podcast of which will be available later Friday evening. 

It appears from various interviews that Miller joined the call in part in order to debunk theories perpetrated by the media, including Alaska Dispatch, that he had anything to do with the recent takeover of the Alaska GOP by Ron Paul supporters.

Although Steiren said that conference call was rambling -- in his words "every businessman's worst nightmare" -- it was clear that Miller ran the meeting, Steiren said in an interview.

Indeed, even as Miller was deriding the mainstream media for lying about his role at the convention, he also appeared to be taking at least some credit for what happened at the convention.

"We turned out a lot of delegates," Joe Miller told listeners on the conference call. He described those delegates as the "reform element and liberty minded element" of the GOP, who "got tired of business as usual in the wake of 2010 controversial senatorial campaign." As a result of that, he said, "we have new leadership."

Miller, many remember, won the 2010 Republican senatorial primary, but was defeated by Murkowski in an historical write-in campaign. Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger was handcuffed by Miller's security guards. Alaska Dispatch is still a party to a lawsuit involving Miller and the Fairbanks North Star Borough over Miller's use of fellow employees' computers in 2008 in order to rig an online poll to oust GOP chair Ruedrich.

In an interview at the convention, Miller said that he still lives in Fairbanks and that none of the election money that he amassed in 2010 has gone toward the lawsuit since January 2011. As of April, federal filings indicated Miller has about $450,000 cash on hand, which he's able to use to pursue another federal office.

He described himself as a practicing lawyer.

At least part of the conference call was devoted to plans to reconvene the convention -- which some say was prematurely adjourned -- at which time unfinished business will be taken up.

Such business might involve getting rid of the "dynasty rule," which would allow Millette to immediately take over his position from long-time GOP head Randy Ruedrich. As it stands, Millette is now finance chair of the party, but would not take over as chair until February 2013, effectively leaving him without a role in the upcoming state elections.

Due to redistricting, up for election are 59 of 60 Alaska legislative seats, many of which are likely to be hotly contested in wake of the recent legislative stalemate over whether to reduce taxes on Alaska's oil industry.

Position 'purity tests' for GOP candidates?

Ruedrich said that the "dynasty rule" was adopted in 2010 to provide an orderly transition. Taking charge immediately, Ruedrich said "will not well serve the people of Alaska." He called being chair of Alaska's GOP a "daunting job."

Prior to Millette's election, the state Republican Party leadership transferred roughly $100,000 to the local GOP chapter in Juneau, Alaska's capital city. 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.

There was talk on Thursday night's conference call about funding prospective candidates based on their answers to a questionnaire, which some are calling a "purity test."

In an interview, Vice-Chair Brown said that she was only able to catch the last 15 minutes or so of the call, but took issue that Miller had much to do with her and Millette’s election.  

She chalked up her and Millette's election to the comingling of a "unique set of individuals who decided that we should partner together." She described those individuals as "strict constitutionalists" who support a strong 10th Amendment.

Brown thinks that it's vital that the convention reconvene so that they can finish debating policy issues, including position papers about such things as the instate natural gas pipeline.

Millette, as finance chair, has been working with Ruedrich to learn the process. Ruedrich described his interactions with Millette as a "positive experience."

"He has good questions," Ruedrich said. "He's learning."

Contact Amanda Coyne at Amanda@alaskadispatch.com