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Alaska Republican Party executive committee overturns incoming chairman's election

Craig Medred
Debbie Brown, Anthony Wayne Ross and Russ Millette at Thursday night's Republican Party committee hearing. Loren Holmes photo

What everyone gathered at the headquarters of the Anchorage headquarters of the Alaska Republican Party on Thursday night wanted was peace and unity, or so they all said. 

They didn't get it.

After a couple of hours of back and forth between insurgent party chairman-elect Russ Millette and his supporters, and the members of the party's State Executive Committee, plus an hour or so of the latter huddling in the secrecy of an executive session to consider Millette's future, the committee voted to sack him.

Who is in charge of the party today is unclear.

Millette was to take over the reigns of the party Friday morning from long-standing chairman Randy Ruedrich, who last spring decided he'd spent enough time wrangling rebellious Republicans and abandoned the job. Ruedrich had endured a tumultuous existence ever since he and coworker Sarah Palin got sideways at the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2003.

Party chairman Ruedrich was caught there doing some Republican Party business when he was supposed to be working at his state job. WIth anti-corruption feelings running high in the state, Palin saw an opportunity to exploit his misbehavior for political gain. It was on Ruedrich's hide she jump-started her successful run to governor in 2006

The political infighting from there on only got worse. Palin and pal Joe Miller from Fairbanks tried to roll Ruedrich as state chairman in 2008, but failed. Miller, however, got caught surreptitiously using the computers of coworkers at the Fairbanks North Star Borough to vote in an online Republican poll he'd set up. He was reprimanded. The reprimand would come back to haunt the Fairbanks attorney when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

After upsetting incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary, Miller found himself under the spotlight of media scrutiny. A lot came out, most of it bad, eventually including what had happened in Fairbanks. Miller lost the general election to Murkowski who had rejoined the race as a write-in candidate. Some of Miller's supporters accused longtime Republicans of working behind the scenes to help Murkowski to an unprecedented victory against a Republican senate nominee in Alaska.

The party remains split over that. One of the things Millette attorney Wayne Anthony Ross demanded to know Thursday night was whether party rules chairman Frank McQueary, the man leading the fight to oust Millette, had supported Murkowski. 

"I gave her campaign money," he said. "I believe after it (the election) was over."

Asked if he'd worked to get Miller elected, McQueary admitted he hadn't, but said he'd done nothing to undermine his chances at election either. Miller supporters haven't seen it that way. 

By April 2012, they had merged with equally unhappy supporters of failed Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul to try to take over the party. They succeeded and elected Millette the new chairman. But it didn't end there. 

Old-guard Republicans, some of them supporters of Murkowski, fought back. Questions have arisen about whether some party delegates were paid to attend the convention at which Millette won election. Charges were leveled that Millette, who has admitted he never talked to Murkowski as chairman-elect, was somehow involved in the raucous scene that led to both Murkowski and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., being booed when they appeared at the convention.

Millette denied it. 

But he admitted, in response to questioning from executive committee member and Republican National Committeeman Ralph Seekins from Fairbanks, that his earlier claims about how the party wouldn't give him access to headquarters and accounts was pretty much bunk. Seekins asked Millette flat out if he'd ever been denied access to any party records.

"No," Millette answered.

That Millette hadn't done much, if anything, to help the party as chairman-elect was one among a bevy of charges against Millette that basically accused him of being unfit for office. The one that stuck was the claim he'd failed to do anything to raise funds for the party as state finance chair since his election in April.

Millette conceded he hadn't done that job, came up with a bunch of excuses that largely blamed Ruedrich for not being helpful enough in setting up meetings with potential donors, and argued that the finance job was an appointed position, not an elected one.

"Even if I failed to do the job of the state finance chair," he argued, "the removal procedure in the ARP (Alaska Republican Party) cannot be used to remove me from the chair position because I am not yet in that position."

The executive committee saw it differently. 

After deliberating on Millette's fate, they emerged from behind close doors to announce that the job of the chairman-elect was to raise money as the finance chair, and noted that Millette flunked what could be considered an internship on the way to the chairman's post.

"He failed to perform his duty as finance chair," said Ruedrich, still a member of the executive committee as of late Thursday night. "Grounds for removal is failure to carry out or perform."

Millette was not immediately available for comment. He put on his coat and hat and left the meeting shortly after the announcement, pausing only briefly to shake Ruedrich's hand on the way out. 

How much he really wanted the job once held by Ruedrich is hard to calculate. In a written statement to the executive committee, he wrote that dealing with the complaint lodged by McQueary "has also caused a lot of work and stress." As several long time party members in attendance at the hearing noted, however, the work and stress Millette experienced paled compared to what Ruedrich has been through over the years.

What Millette will do next remains to be seen. He and lawyer Ross, an old Republican war horse, repeatedly claimed Millette had been denied "due process." But as McQueary pointed out several times, political parties in the United States have broad powers to decide who will -- and will not -- be members.

Political parties are not government entities with rigid rules. They are more like big clubs.

And in this club, the old members voted the 67-year-old new member out.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com