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Power struggle: Alaska GOP infighting to continue Feb. 1

Craig Medred
Loren Holmes photo

The chairman elect of the Alaska Republican Party, under attack as a Republican in name only, Thursday night refused to tell party faithful who he voted for in November’s presidential election. When Russ Millette was asked who he supported in the competition between Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama, he said, “I didn’t support anyone.”

Asked who he voted for, he dodged behind the secret ballot. Pressed later on the oddity of the incoming state Republican chairman refusing to say whether he voted for the party’s presidential candidate, Millette expressed the belief that the chairman is obligated to support the party nominee, but the chairman elect is not under that obligation. And he reiterated again he wasn’t about to reveal for whom he voted.

Millette had supported long-shot-candidate Ron Paul in the Republican primary. Other Paul supporters and backers of failed Senate candidate Joe Miller rallied behind Millette after long-time state GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich bowed out of his job last year. No one has ever accused Ruedrich of being a RINO, but he’s had a contentious career as party chairman.

Miller and Gov. Sarah Palin tried to oust him in 2008, but failed. Though stung by those efforts, Ruedrich actively campaigned for the Republican presidential ticket of Sen. John McCain and Palin in 2008.

And in 2010 when Miller upset incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, Ruedrich actively campaigned for the conservative from Fairbanks. There were those in the Republican Party, however, who questioned whether he did everything possible to ensure the election of Miller, who lost to a write-in campaign staged by Murkowski.

The campaign fractured a party which has long dominated Alaska politics. At the state Republican Convention in April -- the convention at which Millette was elected -- Murkowski was shouted down.

The repercussions continue to be felt. On Thursday night, Millette was appearing before the party’s executive committee and an overflow crowd at the rundown party headquarters in Anchorage to respond to charges that he was the head of a fifth column trying to take over the party from the inside.

Outside the building, picketers protected Ruedrich, who remains the party chairman until Feb. 1. Two security officers kept some out by claiming the offices inside the nondescript building on Fireweed Lane was at its fire-code capacity. Inside, the party faithful and TV cameras were squeezed into a hot room with ticky-tacky, old wood paneling on the walls and worn gray carpet on the floor. Ruedrich, national Republican committeeman Ralph Seekins from Fairbanks, and some other executive board members sat behind a glass table with a computer at the front of the room.

They opened the meeting with the prosecution of vice-chair elect Debbie Brown from the Kenai Peninsula, who faced charges she’d mishandled party funds. Ruedrich had a recording of a conversation with her that made it appear that while she was the District 34 chairwoman, Brown might have misused party money. The computer chirped as he played clips of the conversation.

Aged attorney Wayne Anthony Ross -- known around Alaska as “WAR” and who holds the distinction of serving the shortest term ever as state attorney general -- stopped the proceedings once to ask if the computer was making noise or “is that my hearing aid going bad.” The average age of those in attendance was probably over 60. Brown attacked Ruedrich for recording their conversations without telling her. Ruedrich countered that it was obvious the recording was taking place.

Brown’s husband, Jack, who is facing fines of $34,050 levied by the Alaska Public Offices Commission, broke down in tears and said he was to blame, not his wife. Jack was the treasurer for District 34 when Debbie was the vice chairwoman. APOC is investigating Jack for filing improper election reports required from the district treasurer.

Jack said he couldn’t remember what happened. He had coronary bypass surgery in 2010. “I have no memory of 2010,” he said. “My last memory is probably of 2008.” He remembered relatives murdered that year.

“I’m an honest man,” he said, breaking down in tears. “Our house totally burned down. We are homeless....My wife is not to blame, I am.”

His wife was a little more strident in her own defense. “I stand for truth,” she said, and believes in guns, God and bravery.

Not long after that, the committee voted to postpone the hearing on the accusations against her and two others until Feb. 1 so they could move onto the accusations against Millette.

Republican Party Rules Chairman Frank McQueary charged Millette was the leader of 800 people who took over the party -- people who “never contributed, never participated.” That small group, he said, “bullied and threatened and intimidated” its way into power, and put a man -- Millette -- at the front of the party who had no interest in promoting Alaska Republicans.

“This is a debate that will determine the heart and soul of the party,” McQueary said.

“That’s the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard,” shot back Ross, who’d taken up the defense for both Brown and Millette. McQueary’s accusation, WAR said, boiled down to a claim that Millette “brought too many people into the party, and they weren’t your kind of people.”

The 67-year-old Millette, for his part, said he wasn’t sure what it was with which he was charged. He got a copy of McQueary’s complaint, he said, but the original print was too small to read. He didn’t get a legible copy until a couple days before Thursday night’s hearing, he said.

Ruedrich, who was chairing the executive committee hearing to review McQueary’s charges, asked if Millette now understood the accusation.

“I’m not sure I do,” Millette said. “I’m also finding this proceeding frustrating.”

So were a lot of others. And in the end, the Millette hearing, like the Brown hearing, was postponed until Feb. 1. Afterward, some longtime Republicans said it’s just too bad party members can’t get along, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com