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Joe Miller's wife took unemployment benefits after working for him

Jill Burke

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Glance through coverage of Joe Miller.

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller confirmed Monday night that his wife -- once hired to work as a part-time clerk for the same Alaska court in which he was serving as a U.S. magistrate judge -- went on unemployment after she left the job.

Miller is running on a self-described constitutional conservative platform, arguing that the nation must return to the principles and powers penned by the founding fathers to save it from bankruptcy. Putting an end to entitlements on a national level and empowering states has been a key message in his campaign.

In the weeks leading up to the admission about his wife's unemployment history, Miller has finessed his message on unemployment benefits, saying he's not opposed to them but that they should be managed by the states -- not the feds.

On Monday, in response to a blogger's post and questions from reporters, the Miller campaign issued a statement detailing how his wife -- Kathleen Miller -- worked for him while he was serving as a part-time U.S. magistrate judge in Fairbanks. Prior to moving to Fairbanks, the couple lived 200 miles away in the rural Alaska town of Tok where Miller worked as magistrate for the state court system. (Clarification: A prior version of this story incorrectly stated that the Millers' federal court service took place in Tok.)

Miller held the magistrate position for the District Court out of Fairbanks from June 21, 2002 through June 1, 2004, earning a total of $71,418. Kathleen Miller worked as a part-time clerk for him from June 2002 to December 2002, according to a  resume she submitted to the state last year when she pursued an appointment to the Alaska Judicial Council.

After she left her clerk job, she briefly went on state unemployment, Miller acknowledged in a statement:

My wife, Kathleen, did work for me as a magistrate judge clerk/secretary while I was a part-time Federal Magistrate judge from 2002 to 2004. Before 2004 there was a long-standing practice, both in Fairbanks as well as other areas in the United States, that due to the time commitments of being a lawyer and a part-time Federal Magistrate judge the same individuals that worked in your private law offices also worked in your federal magistrate office - many of those being family members. Before even applying for the Fairbanks Magistrate judgeship I spoke with members of the federal court concerning the employment of Kathleen. It was confirmed that she could work for me in my office. After leaving my office Kathleen did receive unemployment benefits for a short period of time.

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Kathleen and Joe Miller celebrate after the Republican primary election Aug. 24.

Miller's statement came after local blogger Andrew Halcro -- a supporter of write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- brought up the issue earlier Monday. Alaska Dispatch has been working to obtain confirmation about Joe and Kathleen Miller's work history with the U.S. District court since early last week.

While employment records exist for Joe, they were not immediately available for Kathleen, who was not listed among the court's former employees, according to an Oct. 1 e-mail from Richard Carelli, a spokesman for the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Carelli said he plans to have information available Tuesday.

Carelli has since explained that "part-time magistrate judges often use employees from their law practice to do court work, and that those employees are compensated by the magistrate judge's court."

Halcro and other Miller critics have suggested Miller was forced to fire his wife, calling the couple's working relationship a form of nepotism prohibited by court policies at the time.

Miller -- taking an open shot at Murkowski -- appears fearless in addressing the issue and any ethical questions it may raise.

"I welcome any and all discussion on nepotism when it pertains to all of the candidates of the U.S. Senate race," he said in his statement.

Murkowski came under fire for nepotism in 2002 when her father, Frank Murkowski, appointed her to fill his U.S. Senate seat, which he left after being elected Alaska's governor.

Anti-centralized government

In July, Miller suggested in a video interview that the U.S. Constitution doesn't provide for unemployment benefits. And on Monday, he was again sticking with his anti-centralized-government theme, telling ABC News and Politico that he opposes the federal minimum wage. As with unemployment, minimum wage should be a state decision, Miller believes.

"The state of Alaska has a minimum wage which is higher than the federal level because our state leaders have made that determination," he said. "The minimum level again should be the state's decision."

Still, in recent weeks, Miller -- also an opponent to Social Security and Medicare -- has acknowledged utilizing federal programs, including subsidies, over the years. In the 1990s, he received more than $7,000 in federal farm subsidies for land he owned in Kansas, where he grew up. In 1999, he applied for and was granted a $77,400 state loan to buy 1,000 acres in Delta Junction under a program aimed at promoting the development of Alaska agriculture.

Miller and his campaign have fired back at critics who have called him a hypocrite, saying things like the farm subsidies were long ago and do not reflect on his positions today.

"If you suggest that anybody that has received federal payments is excluded from the dialogue on where we are at today as a federal government, then (that means) nobody can participate," Miller said in an Alaska Dispatch interview last month.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.