A hearing Thursday may determine the future of the Republican Party in Alaska. Russ Millette, incoming chair-elect of the Alaska Republican Party (ARP), will face a hearing before a party committee after a complaint filed against him earlier this month by current Republican Party Rules Chairman Frank McQueary.
Also facing a complaint is Debbie Brown, the vice-chair elect, whose husband on Wednesday was sent a letter from the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), notifying him of a potential fine of $34,050 stemming from an improperly reported 2010 end-of-year report.
The outcomes of these hearings could mean the difference between a new breed of conservative taking over the party or the entrenched establishment Republicans retaining key leadership positions.
Ruedrich filed complaint
Millette and Debbie Brown of Kasilof -- subject of an ARP complaint filed by current party Chairman Randy Ruedrich -- were both elected at the party convention last April. The complaint against Brown is based around alleged mismanagement of funds in her role as party vice-chair for Southcentral District 34.
Brown's case may have taken a hit on Wednesday, when her husband, Jack Brown, the treasurer of District 34, was notified by APOC he was being fined $34,050 for an inaccurate end-of-year report from 2010, allegedly failing to report $923 in expenditures and $1,050 in contributions from a 2010 "Joint Convention" with Districts 33 and 34 Republicans.
According to APOC, Jack Brown initially filed a "no activity" report for 2010 after the deadline for end-of-year reports. In Ruedrich's complaint against Debbie Brown, he also alleges that this "no activity" was filed late, and that Jack Brown paid the late-filing fee using party funds, which would result in an expenditure report for 2011 as well. However, the 2011 District 34 report also claimed "no activity."
APOC Executive Director Paul Dauphinais called the fine "substantial," but wouldn't say how large the fine was relative to other penalties assessed by APOC. The $34,050 was determined by taking the maximum daily penalty of $50 for an incorrect filing and spreading it out over the 681 days that Brown failed to file an accurate report. That report eventually was filed last month on Dec. 28, the APOC said.
Dauphinais stressed that the amount of the penalty may change, as Brown is now permitted to appeal the decision. Appeals to the Commission in the past related to late filings have often seen the fine substantially reduced or even waived -- as was the case with a $25,000 fine against Sen. Lesil McGuire for improper reporting that was dismissed in September 2012 "because the expenditures caused no harm to the public."
Dauphinais said that no formal complaint was ever filed with APOC concerning the inaccurate filing, but the notice of penalty said that the matter had "come to the attention" of the commission. Dauphinais said that occurred sometime in 2012.
An email to Brown was not immediately returned Thursday.
Since the complaint fell against Debbie Brown's husband and not Debbie Brown herself, the impact that this might have on her Republican Party hearing was unclear. Ruedrich alleges other misconduct in his complaint against Brown outside of the inaccurate filing.
The complaint against Millette is more abstract. In it, McQueary alleges that Millette is not a "lifelong" Republican, citing periods prior to the 2010 and 2012 Republican conventions when Millette registered as undeclared, a charge that Millette called "irrelevant" to his position as chairman-elect.
"Party rules don't require you to have been a Republican at all times in your life," Millette said. "I'm 67 years old, and I campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964 when I was 19 years old, so I've been in the Republican Party for a long time."
Millette said that if he were going to classify himself as a type of Republican, it would be a "liberty Republican" or a "Paleo-conservative." Asked what the latter term meant, Millette said it's more "old-school" than Republicans of today, though what that might mean wasn't clear.
"I'm pro-life, I'm pro-defense, I'm for small government, I'm for much lower budgets at the state and federal level," Millette said. "I'm a Republican, for crying out loud. I'm a conservative."
McQueary also alleges in his complaint against Millette that the chair-elect, in his appointed role as Finance Chair, has not been able to effectively raise money for the party. Millette said that he has not been given access to donor lists or any of the financial records that might help him in such a capacity.
Open to public?
Outgoing party chair Randy Ruedrich has held the position for more than a decade and survived numerous attempts by others to take over the party leadership. But Millette and Brown's elections last year may not have been what the outgoing party expected, given Millette's support for Congressman Ron Paul's presidential campaign and a strong turnout of more libertarian-minded conservatives at the convention.
Such dissatisfaction with the incoming leadership may have contributed to the complaints against Millette and Brown.
The first part of the hearing on Thursday should be open to the public, provided civility reigns among the crowd. Millette said that the vast majority of the feedback he's gotten since the complaint was filed has been positive.
McQueary's complaint also expresses concern that Millette has "neither skills nor the aptitude to lead the party."
"You have some Republicans on the far right who are interested in the social and philosophical problems, you have the fiscal Republicans who are interested in the economic issues, and then you have other smaller groups who have their own interests," McQueary said. "And (the Alaska Republican Party is) trying to keep them all under the same big tent."
If both Brown and Millette lose at their hearings, a new vote will have to be held to fill the party's two top spots.
Millette's big question is: Why now? Why, less than a month before he was due to be sworn in as chair, has he been targeted for removal from office?
Thursday, he may finally get an answer.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com