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Craig Medred: Joe Miller adviser's tale of the 2010 campaign revises history

Craig Medred

Finally the secret is out as to how Republican primary winner Joe Miller lost the 2010 Alaska race for the U.S. Senate to long-shot, write-in candidate and fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski.

Blame it all on "illegal alien Rafael Mora-Lopez, who served on the Anchorage police force for six years before he was discovered ... (and) voted three times in 2010 and 37 other times over a 20-year period," says Matt Johnson, Miller's senior policy adviser in 2010.

The Mora-Lopez revelation comes on page 235 of "The Joe Miller Story -- Malicious Intent -- Inside the Establishment's War on the Tea Party," Johnson's newly released book about the election.

A once-respected Anchorage police officer, Mora-Lopez made the news in early 2011 when it was discovered he was in the country illegally. Johnson claims Mora-Lopez was one of a network of illegal immigrants whose votes helped Murkowski to victory.

"It is unclear what the extent of the illegal alien voting problem may be, but we are aware of others who are politically active," Johnson writes. "The Alaska Department of Law, presumably in an attempt to conceal their false claims relating to a universe of illegal voters, has declined to press charges."

To which one can only ask: "Why would the Alaska Department of Law be making 'false claims relating to a universe of illegal voters,' let alone trying to conceal such claims if the agency made them?"

OK, so Johnson isn't a writer by training. What he is presumably trying to say there is that the Department of Law failed to fully investigate claims of a "universe of illegal aliens." And to be fair to Johnson, illegal aliens aren't the only people "Malicious Intent" blames for Miller's stunning rise and spectacular fall on the Alaska political stage.

The book fingers other Miller campaign aides, most notably those from Outside, and in the process doesn't exactly make Miller, who is in the race for the Senate again this year, look great.

"In the absence of experienced campaign management," Johnson writes at one point, "Joe Miller spent way too much time micromanaging things he should have had no part in."

But the fact is Miller was the guy picking the managers. First there was Paul Bauer, who went off the tracks and started a nasty fight with the University of Alaska Anchorage College Republicans and then accused an Anchorage radio-talk show host of "blackmail" for threatening to air a videotape of the dust-up. Bauer was let go.

"Paul had never figured out that the whole thing was not about him," Johnson writes. "He used his position as Joe's campaign manager to inappropriately settle his own personal scores."

Miller replaced Bauer with Robert Campbell, a Barrow lawyer, whom Johnson dismisses simply as "not a good fit. He was a moderate who adored former President George H.W. Bush and was a true believer in John McCain."

Hindsight being 20/20

Johnson is no fan of McCain or any others tainted by long service in Washington, D.C. -- save the late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska who remains atop his pedestal even in this book. For others tied to the nation's capital, Johnson reserves his best vindictive.

"In order for Murkowski to win," he writes, "the operatives from DC had to neutralize Joe Miller's message. We were not defeated by Murkowski's Mickey Mouse write-in campaign. We were defeated by the moles on the inside that obstructed a winning strategy."

Johnson seems to miss the fact that only about a quarter of Alaska's approximately 489,000 registered voters are Republicans. More than half of all Alaskans -- 261,915 to be exact -- are registered as nonpartisan or undeclared. Many of these people consider themselves moderates in one way or another. To win an Alaska election, candidates need to collect a significant number of those votes, or at the very least not alienate those voters.

Miller got nearly 91,000 votes in the 2010 general election. That would account for about two-thirds of all registered Republicans, if all registered Republicans voted. Democratic candidate Scott McAdams tallied slightly more than 61,000 votes, a total that equals almost 85 percent of all registered Democrats. And Murkowski won with 102,252 votes.

What the math says is that two out of three voters who went to the polls in 2010 voted against Miller.

Johnson thinks his candidate would have fared better if he'd gone even more negative on Murkowski than he did, but it would have been hard for Miller to do that without catching some blowback. And Johnson himself admits that Miller's "public persona is sometimes a little cold. That would often lead critics to conclude that he was arrogant, aloof or perhaps self-important."

Johnson mainly appears to believe that if he had been given a bigger role in the campaign, those negatives could have been overcome. This is an easy trap to fall into when writing an election post-mortem from the standpoint of one of the players.

Johnson's political resume is short. He is the former pastor of the Greatland Bible Chapel, which once got in a little zoning tussle with the Municipality of Anchorage. That led Johnson to give up the calling of the Christian religion to follow the calling of another religion: politics.

His career in that field began in 2008 as an aide to a Republican lawmaker in the state House of Representatives. That led to a job in the office of the Alaska lieutenant governor, which led to even more political jobs which led to his traveling to Fairbanks in July 2009 to witness then-Gov. Sarah Palin turning the governor's job over to then-Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell.

"Her performance was much like a stump speech on the campaign trail," Johnson writes, "a laundry list of her administration's accomplishments, a lot of red meat for conservatives, a few gratuitous slams on the media and a vote of confidence for the new governor."

Enthused by Palin's speech, he writes, Johnson later met another dynamic politician, Miller. Miller was then little known outside the Republican party but had attracted attention from within for organizing "the attempted coup on state party chair Randy Ruderich at the Republican State Convention the year before," Johnson writes. "It had received an inordinate amount of attention because of Sarah Palin's involvement in the effort, and the Establishment hated Joe for initiating the whole affair."

This entry on page 13 pretty much outlines the main theme for the book. The Establishment hated Miller. The Establishment convinced its lapdogs in the media to hate Miller. And because of all this hate, Miller eventually lost the general election to Murkowski, the same woman he bested in the primary.

How Miller beat Murkowski in the primary -- if the Republican Establishment truly hated him that much -- is explained in a chapter titled "The Alaska Miracle," which credits the victory to the support of Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, then-South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and radio talk show host Dan Fagan, who took offense at the Murkowski campaign using a tape of one of his shows in a political advertisement.

"Dan Fagan was so upset by the development that he agreed to cut a radio ad of his own denouncing the stunt, and we were only too happy to air it," Johnson writes.

That Fagan ad, Johnson contends, "was a slam dunk! Murkowski was done; she just didn't know it yet."

Johnson relishes media personality Fagan using his supposed media power to tilt the primary for Miller. It is only later when other media use their supposed power to help Murkowski that media behavior becomes abhorrent.

Twisted Twitter

Fourteen pages after thanking Fagan for delivering the primary victory, Johnson is blaming a "media firestorm" for overheating the actions of a "well-intentioned (Miller) volunteer who, in retrospect, obviously lacked the experience and good judgment to speak publicly for the candidate."

Only volunteer Pete Alexion wasn't really speaking "for" the candidate; he was tweeting "as" the candidate on the social media platform Twitter. And on Aug. 27, 2010, with the Republican primary over and rumors circulating that Murkowski might run against Miller on the Libertarian Party ticket, JoeWMiller -- also known as Pete Alexion, according to Johnson -- tweeted: "What's the difference between selling out your party's values and the oldest profession?"

Johnson tries to argue that this wasn't really the Miller campaign calling Murkowski a prostitute, but he eventually concedes the tweet "was grossly inappropriate."

The campaign quickly blamed it on an "unnamed staffer" who Johnson outs as Alexion in "Malicious Intent." Shortly after the now-infamous tweet, Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said the unnamed staffer's Twitter privileges had been revoked.

But about a month later JoeWMiller -- aka Pete Alexion -- was back at it again, according to Johnson, tweeting in quick succession, supposedly from the nation's capital: "My sincere appreciation for the warm welcome, including from future colleagues in DC;" "Then there's the matter of a name plaque for the door;" "Guess I should pick out some office furniture, as well, while in DC;" and, lastly, "Think I'll do some house hunting while I'm in DC."

Suddenly, with the real election yet to come, Miller was looking obnoxiously arrogant thanks to those tweets. For this, Johnson again blames Alexion.

"Pete assured Joe that he had learned his lesson (after the first episode)," Johnson writes, but that wasn't the case. No sooner had Alexion, the author of "Weightlifting 101," regained access to the Twitter account, Johnson writes, than "he was back at it, incomprehensibly suggesting that Joe was in DC measuring the drapes for his new Senate office. It was a colossal mistake that should never have happened."

And who allowed the "colossal mistake" to happen? The real Joe W. Miller, who put Alexion back in charge of Twitter.

Better title: "With friends like these ..."

How Johnson thinks these sorts of revelations benefit Miller as he gears up for another Senate campaign is hard to tell. The author has a chapter in the book titled "With 'Friends' Like These ..." and when reading the book it is easy to conclude that might have been a good title for his tome.

It's probably best for Miller the book is difficult and expensive to obtain. Miller doesn't offer it for sale on his website. And the company that printed it had no idea on where to obtain a copy, saying only that they were all picked up by Miller. The book was offered for $50 at one Miller campaign event this year and available as a reward for a $100 donation at a Tea Party fundraiser.

To those lacking the blinders, however, the book often just makes Miller look weak and indecisive while making the author -- Johnson -- look like some sort of puppet master.

Johnson says he is the guy who recruited Miller as a Senate candidate, and when Miller at first said he wasn't interested, "I was disappointed, to say the least. He seemed liked the perfect candidate: West Point, Decorated Combat Veteran, Yale Law Graduate, Master's Degree in Economics, etc.," Johnson writes. "Now I would have to begin the recruitment process all over ... I entertained the idea of trying to get to Todd Palin but never acted on it."

Miller, of course, later changed his mind, jumped into the race and shocked many by winning the primary as something of a political unknown -- no thanks to the media.

"...Where was the local media during the primary?" Johnson asks. "I could probably count on one hand how many interviews they had given Joe in the first four months, and most of their reporting was hopelessly biased anyway."

The first claim is true. Dark-horse candidates often have a hard time gaining media attention. The second claim is not supported by any evidence. There was almost no negative press about Miller in the lead-up to the primary.

Alaska Dispatch played up Miller's Yale education and his strong conservative roots. The Anchorage Daily News focused on his Tea Party connections and Palin links, which Johnson himself calls vital to the candidate's primary success. Most other media coverage was similarly shallow.

Miller's problems came after the primary, and they had much to do with how little he'd been covered before the general election. His primary victory forced a closer media examination. The campaign did not deal with the examination well. Johnson takes some of the blame.

In the spotlight

"In the days following the primary," Johnson writes, "being uneasy with the constant media attention, I withdrew into the background. ... Looking back, I consider my withdrawal in the days after the primary one (of) my most monumental mistakes of the campaign."

Without Johnson's careful guidance, the little problems -- most notably Miller's seemingly self-serving hypocrisy -- became bigger problems.

The media pretty quickly discovered the various state and federal handouts the conservative Miller had taken over the years. The Miller campaign at first tried to dodge and deny they had happened -- farm subsidies -- then argued the handouts were legal -- hunting and fishing licenses for the indigent at a time when a bank was granting the Millers a $92,000 home renovation mortgage -- and finally called the focus on the candidate's government assistance benefits a "distraction."

"Collective gasp!!!" writes Johnson. "The media's logic was that this was evidence of Joe Miller's hypocrisy because he had identified farm subsidies as a federal expense that should be cut. If you can show me a man who hasn't changed his mind about some things over the last 20 years, I can show you a man either intellectually vacuous or dishonest."

The problem for Miller was that neither he nor Johnson nor any member of the campaign had the courage to articulate this claim back in 2010. Had they been willing to do so, they might easily have turned Miller's past to their advantage.

Many federal support programs are in their way morally corrosive. They encourage people to take money or assistance from the government even if the assistance is unneeded. There are those in American society today, in fact, who would criticize as "fools" anyone unwilling to grab every government advantage to which they are legally entitled -- and the ethics and morality of all this be damned.

Had Miller confessed he'd fallen victim to that kind of thinking, only to realize that what might be good for him was bad for the country, he could have wrapped himself in the mantle of a new and faithful conservative instead of the suit of a self-serving guy with a handful of excuses for why what was bad for others was good for him.

Dena'ina Center Disaster

Instead of confessing to having changed his mind, however, Miller decided to just stop talking to the Alaska media.

Johnson casts this as the "ill-fated 'line in the sand' press conference," or what is more commonly known as the "Disaster at the Dena'ina Center." It was, Johnson writes, "ostensibly to be a forward-looking dialog with the media on the important issues facing the country, and the personal issues were to be brushed off as a distraction.

"But scripted events were not Joe's forte, and the nuance necessary to pull off such a press conference was lost in the heat of the moment. Joe came off as thin-skinned and combative. In short, he looked guilty of something."

Given that the press conference was followed a week later by some goons employed by Miller widening that "line in the sand" by roughing up and then handcuffing Alaska Dispatch editor and co-owner Tony Hopfinger for asking questions before and after a Miller campaign appearance, and came just before the final revelation as to how Miller ended up in so much trouble while working for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, it's sort of a wonder the Fairbanks attorney came as close as he did to beating Murkowski in the general election.

In retrospect, the fact that Miller got within about 11,000 votes of becoming a U.S. senator for Alaska mainly serves to underline how hard it is to stage a write-in campaign. And as for the fiasco in Fairbanks that came to haunt Miller's general election bid -- the rumor that he was fired for trying to rig an election -- Johnson continues to defend the indefensible.

"The truth," Johnson writes, "was that a poll was set up on Joe's own website, and he used three other employees' computers to vote in the poll. It was sophomoric, but it was hardly the serious crime (Mayor Jim) Whitaker later suggested it was. The only reason anybody ever found out about it was because he (Miller) cleared the caches, which also erased saved passwords, causing an uproar in the office. Though he denied being responsible for it when co-workers initially asked him, Joe himself voluntarily told his supervisor what had happened. A subsequent investigation confirmed that Joe was telling the truth. The whole episode lasted just a few minutes."

What is one to learn from these revelations? That bad acts lasting only a "few minutes" are OK? That Miller was so untrustworthy an investigation was needed to determine if his confession was true? That telling your supervisor the truth after lying to your co-workers somehow makes the lying acceptable? That what he did would have been less wrong if the passwords had been saved? Or that everything would have been hunky-dory if only Miller hadn't been caught?

Clearly what Miller tried to do in Fairbanks was stuff an electronic ballot box. That the ballot box in question existed only on his own website doesn't make this better; it just makes it dumber.

How Johnson thinks dredging that incident and the rest up yet again will benefit Miller in 2014 is hard to fathom. But there are those in society today who thrive on the idea of being the victims of media conspiracies. And Johnson is entitled to believe whatever he wants to believe, even if some of what he writes appears delusional.

"There were outlandish rumors being spread that Joe had embezzled money, raped his wife, and a friend of the Murkowski family even revealed that the Murkowskis themselves were peddling the lie that Joe had been fired from the Borough for sexual harassment," Johnson writes in a chapter titled "Media Jihadists."

Such claims were never reported by any Alaska media, but surely if there were serious media Jihadists out there, the rumors must have been reported somewhere. Google away.

Reach Alaska Dispatch-News writer Craig Medred at craig@alaskadispatch.com.


Craig Medred
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