Joe Miller's hunting and fishing license likely violated residency requirement

(Editor's note: Earlier Tuesday Craig Medred looked at whether Joe Miller illegally obtained a state hunting and fishing license. This is an updated version of that story, with more comments from Miller's spokesman.)

One of the first things candidate for U.S. Senator Joe Miller might have done in Alaska after graduating from Yale Law School in 1995 was illegally obtain a state hunting and fishing license, but his spokesman Tuesday insisted that if the candidate did so it was only by accident.

Miller "moved here with the intent to stay here," said Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto. "He moved; he fulfilled all of the residency requirements in '94."

Only Miller didn't fulfill the residency requirement for a hunting or fishing license that year. After a short stint as in intern for the Alaska Department of Law from late summer into the early winter of 1994, "he returned to Yale to finish his (law) degree," as Anchorage writer Michael Carey summarized it. Miller graduated from Yale Law School in the spring of 1995. He then moved permanently to Alaska.

Miller has never disputed that, or at least has not disputed it until Tuesday. DeSoto said Tuesday that Miller never really returned to Yale; he merely put in enough "face time" there to appear to have returned to Yale.

"He was back and forth to Yale," DeSoto said. Miller, his spokesman said, might have spent as little as 60 to 90 days at Yale.

DeSoto couldn't imagine that would disqualify the candidate from status as a resident for hunting and fishing purposes. But the state of Alaska has in other cases held that 60 to 90 days Outside is enough to break the one-year string of time Alaska requires citizens to spend here before obtaining a resident hunting and fishing license.

Miller did not break the current state law requiring hunters and fishermen be "physically present" in the state for 12 months before obtaining his first resident hunting and fishing license; he did, however, break what was the existing law at the time. The law on residency was amended in 1998.

When Miller bought his first resident hunting and fishing license in 1995, state law (AS16.05.940(26)) said this: "'Resident' means a person who for the preceding 12 consecutive months has maintained a permanent place of abode in the state and who has continually maintained a voting residence in the state..."

Miller and his wife, Kathleen, bought a house in Anchorage in 1994. Joe established his voting residence in the state on Sept. 16, 1994. He would have become a legal resident of Alaska for hunting and fishing purposes on Sept. 16, 1995.

On July 31, 1995 he claimed to be a resident in order to buy a $5 license available only to indigent residents of Alaska. The license was available only to those with a gross income under $8,200. Miller has not disclosed his gross income for the period in question.

There was no such cheap license for nonresidents. Nonresidents were required to pay $300.

The key words here are "physically present." Others have been cited for illegally obtaining resident hunting and fishing licenses in Alaska after doing exactly what Miller did. And there have been some cases in which people who have been in the state 11 straight months without sojourns Outside have been cited because they did not wait the final month before getting such a license.

"I don't think you understand the law," DeSoto said. "His family lived here. He arrived in '94. He lived here all those months from July to January. He only spent weeks at a time there (at Yale) ... I'm not sure he even spent a 30-day stretch there."

Miller, DeSoto insisted, had to have qualified as an Alaska resident when he bought his first resident hunting and fishing license, although the spokesman subsequently admitted, "I haven't looked into the law ... They have to primarily have been here the full 12 months?"

Yes, that is pretty much how law enforcement authorities in Alaska have interpreted state rules.

In one notable case earlier this year, a Yakutat fishing guide who had come north to fish for 21 years, who had legally qualified for Permanent Fund Dividend checks, who had long before registered to vote as an Alaska resident, who had a Alaska driver's license, and who had often spent 10 or 11 months per year in the state, was threatened with 60 days in the Juneau jail, more than $21,000 in fines, and a lifetime ban from the Permanent Fund dividend for obtaining a resident hunting and fishing license before doing 12 consecutive months physically in the state.

Guide Ron Pelissier said Alaska State Troopers were very clear in explaining the law to him. He said a trooper sat across from him and his living room in the tiny coastal village explained that he was in big trouble because he hadn't had his butt on the ground in Yakutat for 12 straight months.

"They didn't have no sympathy," Pelissier said at the time. "I don't understand. I have a lot of friends here who leave for the winter. The trooper said, 'Yeah, but they were there for 12 months consecutive once.' I didn't know you had to be chained to the house. It's not like I just abandon the place. My heater runs 12 months a year. My refrigerator is full year round. I qualified for the Permanent Fund Dividend. I spend $360 a month for heat."

Miller, as portrayed by DeSoto, would fit in pretty much the same situation as Pelissier. He was sort of an Alaska resident for those 12 months before he bought a special resident hunting and fishing license for indigent Alaskans. The Anchorage Daily News broke the story of the indigent license Monday, reporting that after Miller returned to Alaska in the summer of '95, having earlier purchased a home in South Anchorage and starting working as an attorney, he obtained a resident low-income hunting and fishing license. The legality of that act is now being debated by Alaskans.

Alaskans making more than $8,200 per year aren't supposed to qualify for the special license, but DeSoto said the family met the guidelines for the 1995 licenses. DeSoto told the Daily News that Miller had been a full-time law student at Yale on a merit scholarship the previous years and his wife was taking care of their children, with family expenses paid through loans.

A Californian who hasn't been here long, DeSoto in an interview admitted to being a bit confused by Alaska fishing and hunting rules and all the fuss made about them by Alaskans. DeSoto is a former assistant to senior executives with Walt Disney in California and a onetime legal clerk with Universal Studios, who would have no reason to know that Alaska troopers don't care when anyone moved to the state. What they care about is making sure someone has spent a full year physically in the state before buying a resident hunting and fishing license. DeSoto also did not know that the cheap license is available only to state residents. Miller had to claim residency to qualify for the that license.

All of this might seem like nonsense to many Outside, but residency for hunting and fishing is a big deal in the 49th state. Alaskans take the requirement seriously, and enforcement of it nets the state tens of thousands of dollars in revenue every year. How many tens of thousands is unclear. When Alaska Dispatch earlier this year queried the state Department of Public Safety for a count on the number of citations written in connection with the law and the dollar value of the fines collected, an agency spokeswoman countered that it would be too time consuming to try to go through the many cases.

Alaska Wildlife Trooper press releases often report a litany of citations for this offense. Troopers are sticklers about enforcing the residency requirement of "12 or more consecutive months of residency" to which Alaskans swear when they buy their fishing or hunting license. One case in point from earlier this year:

On Thursday April 15, 2010 Alaska Wildlife Troopers contacted Benjamin Moser, age 27 from Anchorage reference the purchase of his resident 2008 Alaska fishing license. Investigation revealed Moser purchased a 2008 Alaska resident fishing license in May 2008, only eight months after moving to Alaska. Moser was issued a citation with the bail set at $310.00.

Despite having come to Alaska in 2007 and having proved his intent to stay in the state by staying, Moser was cited in the spring of this year because someone had ratted him out for buying a resident sport fishing license two years earlier when he was 25 years old and relatively new to the state, although he'd endured a winter which one would think might qualify someone for Alaska residency.

UPDATE: This story has been corrected to report a change to Alaska state law made in 1998. An earlier version incorrectly reported that Joe Miller appeared to have violated current state law.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)