Old Guard launches coup in Alaska GOP

Alaska GOP insiders resort to rule or ruin tactics, bent on denying the will  of party members by staging a coup to derail reform efforts. Photo: Russ Millette

WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2013 - In a hastily convened meeting Thursday night the outgoing leadership of the Republican Party of Alaska staged what amounts to a coup to oust the incoming Chairman and seize control of the party.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the controversy over the election of reformer candidate Russ Millette to the Chairmanship of the Alaska GOP.  Millette is a Republican Liberty Caucus member who represents the more libertarian/conservative wing of the party and party insiders did not want him to take control of their party and institute reforms.

During the lame duck tenure of the outgoing State Executive Committee, party insiders raised various charges against Millette and his Vice Chair Debbie Brown, which observers categorized as “trivial” and “irrelevant,” amounting to little more than vague financial questions and accusations of not being enough of a party loyalist. No actual rule violations of any substance were raised.

A plan was put forward to hold a hearing on the charges at the installation meeting of the Executive Committee on February 1st.  Then, to the surprise of party members who described the action as “a sham” and “a witch hunt,” the hearing was moved forward a day so that the new committee members would not yet be seated or have a vote on the accusations.

Even more troubling to many party members was the notification right before the meeting that outgoing Chairman Randy Ruederich had cleaned out the party treasury of $35,000 and transferred the money to a bank in Juneau out of control of the Executive Committee, a classic “rule or ruin” tactic designed to make sure that if the new leadership takes over they will have no money to fund party operations.

At Thursday’s surprise Executive Committee meeting the top members of the outgoing party leadership went over the complaints against Brown and Millette.  In the end they only ruled against Millette on the single charge of failing to actively raise money for the party in the past year, part of a general accusation of not showing a sufficient commitment to the party.

The rules of the Republican Party of Alaska include no qualifications for the chairmanship except being currently registered as a party member.  There is no requirement for any other expression of party loyalty or effort to raise money.  The charge being used against Millette appears to have no basis in the rules at all and is little more than a general accusation of insufficient party loyalty.

At a time when many Republicans are sending their money  to independent PACs and activist groups because of dissatisfaction with the party, and when they are angry enough to attend a state convention as delegates and vote out their party leadership, is it surprising that many party members are not raising money or going out of their way to help the party?

Alaska Republicans want reform and a new direction for the party and that’s why they elected Russ Millette in the first place.  He may not be loyal to the corrupt party establishment, but he does represent what the party rank and file want - change,

The outcome of the meeting was that the Executive Committee removed Millette as Chairman-elect pending an appeal to the State Central Committee.  However they dismissed charges against Vice-Chair Elect Debra Brown after she mounted a spirited defense.  As a result Brown will become acting Chair on Friday, though all she will have is a title as she will likely be denied access to party funds or facilities. 

The final resolution will come at the first meeting of the State Central Committee is scheduled for February 9th in Juneau, at which time Millette will appeal the ruling against him as party insiders try to complete their coup and disenfranchise the rank and file members who elected Millette. 

The Central Committee includes many more representatives of the various parts of the party but it is heavily top-loaded with members of the establishment who are unlikely to support Millette.  His supporters hope to turn out to cheer on his defense, but Alaska is a huge state and many will not be able to fly in on such short notice.  The end result may be an election of a new Chairman from among the members of the old guard in the Central Committee. 

Struggles like this are taking place all over the nation in county and state Republican parties.  Many party members are up in arms about the failures in the 2012 election, the corruption of the party leadership and their reluctance to make needed reforms and changes in strategy which would make the party politically competitive again.

Reformers want a party which can win and which they can be proud of and they will not give up until they see real change.  The party establishment fears change and would rather  let the party drift into whiggish obscurity than give up the power and money of their party sinecures.

If Millette manages to somehow come out on top, it may be a sign of hope for the party in Alaska and nationwide.  If the old guard’s coup succeeds, then conflict will continue and intensify with two factions locked in a death struggle for months to come.  If the result is not substantial change in the party or if the conflict takes too long, there may not be much left of the GOP as a unified national party when the 2014 election rolls around.

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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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