The recently ousted leader of the Alaska Republican Party is fighting his removal.
The announcement came on Saturday morning, during a meeting of the party’s central committee in Juneau. Russ Millette, who was elected chair in April, is appealing his dismissal on a technicality. In a letter e-mailed to the party’s executive committee, Millette alleges that the committee “illegally met … to prevent [him] from becoming Chairman” and that the group was wrong to have him expelled before he was actually seated as chair.
“I’m doing it, because I want to see my name cleared,” said Millette in a phone interview. “There were a lot of people who voted for me and a lot of people who didn’t that want to see this thing cleared up and they want justice to prevail. Whether that can happen or not, we’re going to see.”
Millette was removed from the party’s executive committee on January 31, a day before his term as chair was scheduled to begin. He was elected last spring with support from the Republican Party’s libertarian faction, and his ouster has been characterized as a clash between establishment Republicans and members of the Ron Paul and Tea Party movements. For the past eight months, Millette served in the interim role of finance chair, a fundraising position intended to prepare the chair-elect to head the organization. But the party’s rules committee concluded that Millette failed to raise money for the group in that time, and thus was unfit to lead.
At the same meeting, Millette’s vice chair also came under the scrutiny of the rules committee. They had considered removing Debbie Brown from her post on charges that she had mismanaged funds at a district level. The complaint against her was ultimately dismissed — instead of losing her position, Brown was promoted to chair.
At the gathering of the central committee on Saturday, reaction to Millette’s removal and appeal was mostly addressed indirectly. It was the first time the group had met since Brown had taken Millette’s spot. She laid out her goals as a new leader, explaining that she wanted to bring “fresh faces” to the party and to see more grassroots activism. Brown also alluded to the recent turmoil the party had faced at the executive level.
“There’s a lot of stress focused on one another inside the group, within our own group. And I feel that’s very, very unfortunate and counterproductive to us,” Brown told the central committee. “It reminds me of terrorism in a way. It’s treacherous.”
Many in the room took issue with Brown’s choice of words, and asked her to explain her statement. Brown reiterated that she felt that some within the party had agendas that were “somewhat terroristic in nature,” without identifying any members or factions. In a follow-up conversation, Brown said she wasn’t referring to anyone specifically, and that she wants to see the party “move forward together.” She spoke of fostering a “kind” and “respectful” dialogue to achieve that.
During the meeting, Brown also attempted to replace the existing treasurer and assistant treasurer with her own appointees. Recently, a large portion of the party’s funds were transferred to a Juneau Republican group to be protected during what former chair Randy Ruedrich described in a January statement as a “period of uncertainty and reorganization.” The current treasurers both served under Ruedrich. Brown was overwhelmingly overruled by the central committee as being out of order in her effort to make new appointments to these positions.
After the central committee meeting, Ruedrich downplayed the divisions within the party. He pointed out that membership is still high, and that Republicans exert greater control over state government than they have in years.
“For folks to talk about there being a problem, they’re not looking at the preponderance of the data.”
Millette has a gloomier view on the state of the party.
“Just let me say this: The party is killing itself. It just is,” said Millette.
Millette’s appeal is scheduled to be heard in Homer on May 25, at the next gathering of the central committee. The party could call an emergency meeting for the appeal with a petition from 25 percent of the central committee members.
This story has been updated to include comment from Alaska Republican Party Chair Debbie Brown.
Listen to the full story