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Joe Miller loses again

Craig Medred
Stephen Nowers photo

OPINION: Failed Alaska U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller is clearly one of those people who believes losing once makes you a loser forever.

He'd be well served to get over it and accept that the reality of life is that we often fail to get what we want. All of us. Miller's inability to accept defeat gracefully (Memo to Joe: Nobody says you have to like it) is how he got in a pickle in this state in the first place. And he seems to have learned nothing.

He was back to his old tricks this week after bailing on what had been a stupid and misguided lawsuit intended to punish representatives of the Fairbanks North Star Borough because he thought they revealed that he'd gotten into trouble for some shady politicking while employed there as a part-time attorney. Miller believes the revelations that he was reprimanded in Fairbanks for secretly using the computers of co-workers to try to dummy up a Republican Party poll -- and lying about it to try and cover this up when he got caught -- cost him a seat in the U.S. Senate.

It didn't. What cost Miller a seat in the Senate was Miller's handling of what had happened in Fairbanks. He couldn't bring himself to publicly admit "I made a huge mistake," treat it as the sort of human failure to which we are all prone, and move beyond it as really too petty for much discussion with weighty Alaska and national policies to be debated. But then, if he'd done that, Miller might have looked like a bit of a loser, at least in his own eyes. And he clearly can't accept this.

This week, when he finally settled his way out of the lawsuit against the borough for the paltry sum of $5,000, he couldn't concede the suit was a loser and gracefully suggest it was time at last for everyone to move on. Oh no. Miller had to instead try to claim victory.

"Fairbanks, Alaska.  June 18, 2012 -- Today, the Fairbanks North Star Borough and its former Mayor Jim Whitaker have admitted that they are liable for a judgment to Joe Miller," declared the official media statement from JoeMiller.Us Restoring Liberty. "Mr. Miller accepted the Borough and Mr. Whitaker's offer to allow the entry of a final judgment against them and in Joe Miller's favor."

"This case was never about damages," Miller claimed.

Right. Let's forget that Miller started all of this claiming over $160,000 in damages, and consider for a moment the realities of the legal system in this country. It's all about money. And in cases like this, if you want the lawsuit to mean anything, it is about squeezing enough money out of the individuals involved to send a message to others. A West Point graduate who attended Yale Law School can't hardly have missed this.

So the Borough is going to pay $5,000 to without admitting it or Whitaker did anything wrong and continuing to insist that they didn’t, to get rid of this dog of a case.

Big whoop!

That chicken-feed settlement is supposed to stop anyone in any municipality anywhere in the state from spilling the news on dirt in the personnel file of the next Joe Miller to run for statewide office? I don't think so. And that's a good thing. The judge had it right, and made it sweet and simple.  Miller didn't have any expectation that this stuff would be private once he declared for office.

Alaska voters, strangely enough, have a right to know about the character of the people running. Miller is clearly a character. What kind of character Joe Miller was -- and had -- became a pivotal matter in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Everybody knows by now the story of the meteoric rise and tragic fall of Joe Miller, or they should. Miller got himself involved in politics back in 2008 because he thought the Alaska Republican Party poorly run. Fair enough. Former, half-term Republican Gov. Sarah Palin thought the same thing. She thought a change in leadership necessary. So did Miller.  Fair enough. Miller was smart enough to recognize he and Palin lacked the votes to stage a democratic coup. Fair enough.

So he tried to rig a poll using the computers of coworkers to vote while they were away from their desk. Not fair.

Stupid it was then. Stupid it remains now. Stupid and childish.

Miller himself obviously recognized that when his bosses at the Fairbanks North Star Borough caught onto his little trick. So he tried to lie his way out of it. Even stupider. All of which he did because he didn't want to lose his bid to reshape the Alaska Republican Party and end up in his view looking like a loser.

Starting to see a pattern here?

Now flash ahead to the election of 2010. Miller staged one of the greatest upsets in Alaska political history to unseat Murkowski in the Republican primary. He thought he had a lock on a Senate seat. He was riding high. He tweeted about looking for office furniture in Washington, D.C., and then bits and pieces of his 2008 Fairbanks problem began to leak out. Miller should have, at that point, just ripped the scab off the wound and got it all out there, something like:

"I was reprimanded by the borough in 2008. I was so consumed by my desire to fix the Republican Party in Alaska I got carried away and foolishly got on the computers of co-workers to try to pad an online poll. It was stupid. It was childish. I don't know what I was thinking at the time. It seemed to me like some sort of harmless inside joke that wasn't going to hurt anybody. I know now that I was wrong. I shouldn't have done it. I long ago apologized to the people with whom I was working. In the big scheme of things, it was a sign of a small flaw in my character, which I am always trying to improve, and now it is time to move on to bigger issues."

The Miller faithful would have rallied round. The people who put him over the top in the primary would have redoubled their efforts for the general election. They would have been all over Alaska telling everyone that one foolish, silly mistake on the part of an honorable, distinguished winner of a Bronze Star for service in the Gulf War of 1991 should not disqualify him from office.

There is a strong possibility they could have swayed enough independents to Miller's cause to help him win the election. A lot of people fundamentally liked what he was saying about the need for fiscal responsibility in the government of this country.

There is an even stronger possibility this admission might have influenced Murkowski's decision to run against him in the general as an independent. That run was a long shot. She wasn't expected to win, but she knew there was dirt hidden in Fairbanks. The Murkowski family is extremely well connected there. And it didn't take much to learn about the dirt in Fairbanks. Too many people knew the Miller story.

It was destined to come out. Even Miller had to know that, but accepting it and admitting you acted like a loser is a hard thing to do when you think losing anything makes you a loser.

"The judgment itself of $5,000 is minimal,” Miller's official statement said of the events that officially ended this craziness.

"Nevertheless, this was never a case about money," it added, repeating what had been said only a few lines earlier, "Rather, this case was about getting at the truth and setting the record straight.  There is now a permanent record doing just that."

"Getting at the truth"? Right.

Joe Miller thinks Alaskans are going to remember what? That he settled a lawsuit with the North Star Borough with an agreement they pay him $5,000 just to go away? When he and the borough were each spending twice that much each month on this case, and things were heating up as they prepared for trial; when he was up against a deadline set by the court to provide overdue documents; when his deposition had just been scheduled for next month? Who wouldn't? Who cares? The borough was spending a lot more in attorney fees to deal with the paperwork this dog of a suit required them to post in court.

The borough would have been crazy not to settle. No one is going to remember this check.

The "truth" everyone is going to remember is what came before it: That Miller tried to rig an online poll. That Miller lied about rigging an online poll. That Miller was reprimanded. That Miller tried to cover up the reprimand when he ran for the Senate. That his goons restrained and then handcuffed Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger after he followed Miller into the hallway of an Anchorage school, after a public meeting, in order to ask questions about what exactly had happened in Fairbanks. That Miller's file was finally pried out of the borough by a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by Alaska Dispatch and other media organizations. That the revelations about what Miller had been trying to cover up helped cost him the Senate seat that was in his grasp. And that Miller's response to all of this was to sue the borough and its former mayor claiming it was all their fault.

No, it wasn't. It was all Joe Miller's fault.

And it cost him the election because he couldn't take responsibility, because he couldn't admit he'd acted like a loser, and find a graceful way to move on. But he clearly couldn't do this because to Miller admitting to acting like a loser is the same as being a loser. It sorts of forces an objective person to wonder if -- all his good ideas aside -- Miller really is a loser.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com

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