Alaska: Political power struggle is fight for GOP future

Rank and file GOP activists are fed up with status quo cronyism. Can they overthrow corrupt state party leaders to reform the party? Photo: Alaska GOP Chairman R Reudrich / AP

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2013 — Those who follow the emerging blood sport of Republican Party internal politics know that much goes that doesn’t get much coverage in the major media, but may have a profound effect on the political future of the nation. 

Events in far off Alaska are significant in what they show about a struggle which may be coming to your state GOP in the next few months.

The latest battleground in this struggle is the harsh political tundra of Alaska, where we saw the fight between establishment and reformers played out in a very public struggle between Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski for the Senate in 2010. Grassroots Republicans supported Miller in the GOP and he defeated incumbent Murkowski.

Unwilling to accept the loss, party insiders and leaders then supported Murkowski in a successful independent campaign against their own party’s nominee.

In that contest the establishment demonstrated a willingness to cast aside the desires of party members and even engage in blatant manipulation of the electoral process to get their way. Despite its physical size, Alaska’s political landscape is one of small towns, local powerbrokers, and more than its share of corruption.

All those petty party bureaucrats have invested in a hierarchical system of patronage and payback where party power has become the end in itself. The principles of the party and the will of the party’s voting membership have become inconveniences.

The second round of the battle that started in the 2010 election is being played out over control of the Republican Party of Alaska itself. At the state convention last Spring, delegates from all over the state showed up in unexpected numbers, driven by their dissatisfaction with the behavior of party leaders in the 2010 election. There was an overwhelming demand among the delegates to replace the party leadership.

They voted to elect reformers Russ Millette as Chairman and Debbie Brown as Vice-Chair with a substantial majority. In response, the party leadership suspended the party’s state convention rather than accept the votes of party members. Now it appears that the outgoing leadership may refuse to seat the newly elected party leaders when they are supposed to take office next month, and they have begun raising issues to contest the outcome of the election.

An ally of outgoing Chairman Randy Ruedrich has filed party rule complaints against Chairman-Elect Russ Millette, charges that have very little to do with the party rules being largely irrelevant to most party members. The charges include the spurious claim that Millette only recently registered as a Republican despite a history of voting in party primaries going back to his time as a campaign worker for Barry Goldwater in 1964.

The fact that he temporarily dropped his party registration out of dissatisfaction with the party is really an expression of concern for the party rather than permanent disaffection. Party rules only require that a candidate for office be registered Republican; they do not specify a particular length of registration.

Joe Miller’s blog site asserts that Frank McQueary, who raised the charges against Millette, himself engaged in far more serious rule violations:

“Mr. McQueary himself has a long history of violating and disregarding party rules. In 2010, while chair of the rules committee, he opposed the Republican nominee, Joe Miller, and actively supported independent candidate Lisa Murkowski. A search of FEC records reveals that he donated funds to Murkowski, post-primary … Mr. McQueary failed to properly address a legitimate complaint filed with him in regards to the College Republicans being wrongly disenfranchised from representation on the SCC, in direct violation of the rules. Mr. McQueary further failed in to perform his duties by refusing to address charges filed against Mr. Ruedrich, charges that actually had merit under the rules.”

The attacks on Millette and Brown are described as a “witch hunt” and have been countered with further accusations of a wide variety financial improprieties by the outgoing party leadership, including the misdirection of party funds to political organizations under their control.

This is a common malfeasance practiced by party leaders in many states which actually led to the indictment and incarceration of Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer several years ago.

Rank and file party members are organizing protests all over Alaska on the 17th. They hope to attract media attention to the corruption which has taken control of the state Republican Party away from its members and given it to an elite group of  politically connected opportunists.

These leaders refuse to follow party rules and the will of the Republican voters and delegates who are the party.

In this struggle, as in similar conflicts all over the country in the past year, the Republican National Committee has chosen not to take any action to protect the integrity of conventions and party elections. It has by its inaction effectively condoned and protected the behavior of state party leaders.

Dozens of state party conventions were marred by fraud and abuse last year, and rather than standing up for party members, the RNC compounded the outrage by engaging in its own abuses. At the national convention in Tampa it unseated legally elected delegates and disregarded party rules to silence dissent over the nomination of Mitt Romney, and it changed party rules to reduce the autonomy of state parties and the influence of local party members.

The GOP is in the middle of a tooth-and-nail struggle for its identity and for its future. The battles are being fought in hotel ballrooms, school auditoriums, and rental banquet halls all over the nation. The working membership of the party has had enough of the well-connected but inattentive leadership cadre, and in a rolling wave as county and state conventions convene, they are booting out the party’s establishment and replacing them with reformers whose interest is in principles rather than status quo opportunism.

What is happening in Alaska and has happened in other Republican state organizations is particularly significant in the context of the dismal failure of the party in the 2012 election. 

Failing to mount an effective challenge for the White House, losing credibility because of embarrassing behavior by candidates like Todd Akin, and losing seats in both the House and Senate are very bad signs for the future of the party. If this is what the party establishment produces, the reformers might be able to do a much better job. 

Republicans feel that their party has lost its way. The demographics of the party are changing and the aging leadership is losing ground against younger activists motivated by principle and fed-up with he status quo. These young Republicans want to see an end to cronyism and pandering to special interests.

They are serious about fiscal conservatism and don’t want to see the party dragged down by divisive social issues which alienate key independent voters. This suggests that the reformers in Alaska will win their struggle, if not now then certainly in the long run, so long as they don’t become discouraged and stay with the fight.

This widespread demand for change has already resulted in the overthrow of the party leadership in a number of states, most recently Maine, where the Republican Liberty Caucus and their allies took all of the leadership positions at their state Republican convention in December.

If the saying “as Maine goes, so goes the nation” holds true, by the time we get to the 2014 elections we may see a very different and far more politically effective Republican Party.

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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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