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Debate among Alaska GOP heading into meeting

Posted: June 8, 2012 - 4:08pm

JUNEAU — The outgoing chairman of the Alaska GOP is urging the party faithful to stay away from this weekend’s continuation of the state convention amid fears of a power grab by supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

Paul won six of the 24 delegates up for grabs in Alaska’s Republican presidential preference poll in March, after finishing third behind Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. But chairman Randy Ruedrich is concerned Paul supporters will try during Saturday’s meeting to get more delegates to the national convention, similar to what happened last month in Maine.

That’s not the intention, said Paul supporter Evan Cutler, who insists that he and others instead want to resolve issues that were unsettled when the convention abruptly ended in April, such as consideration of an updated party platform and a change that would allow a brisker transition to new leadership.

Paul supporters won leadership positions in the party at the convention after Ruedrich announced his retirement.

A quorum is needed to conduct business during Saturday’s meeting in Anchorage, but there’s disagreement between Ruedrich and Paul supporters about what that number is or even about what’s on the agenda. Ruedrich contends the only business at hand is to announce the election results of the new leadership. He has encouraged GOP members to go fishing instead of attending the meeting and donate whatever costs they would have incurred to go to the meeting to a GOP candidate.

He said in an email that the Paul “group is not trustworthy.”

“Man, if we can’t do this, how are we going to win races?” Debra Holle Brown, the party’s newly elected vice chair, said of this weekend’s business.

Whether the bickering has any impact on this year’s elections remains to be seen; barring a change in the rules, Ruedrich, the party chair since 2000, will remain in that role until early next year, after elections that could determine whether the state Senate returns to Republican control, with incoming chair Russ Millette serving as finance chair and charged with helping fundraise. Millette declined to be interviewed for this story.

Paul supporters plan to organize for Republican candidates even if they don’t get what they want Saturday, though Cutler, founding organizer of Alaskans for Ron Paul 2012, which helped elect the new party leaders, fears people will become frustrated and “disenchanted” with the process if they aren’t allowed to vote on platform planks or other party business this weekend.

Cutler said his group is a volunteer organization, not affiliated with Paul’s campaign. Paul suspended active campaigning in May though still encouraged supporters to continue their work in state conventions.

Aside from the back-and-forth detailed in news stories, there have been few outward signs of any rift. Republicans fielded at least one candidate for nearly all the legislative seats up for grabs and as of June 3, the party had more registered voters than it did a year earlier — and nearly 760 more than it did on April 3, just weeks before the at-times boisterous party convention.

Brown attributed any pushback or wariness from current party leaders to the discomfort that comes with change.

“We’re not like aliens to the party. We’re conservative; many of us are long-time Republicans here,” said Brown, who defines herself as having been an active member of the state party since the mid-1970s and having served in such roles as a member of the state central committee.

She said people may be uneasy because they’re not sure if the new leaders will have a new vision for the party. What she said she would like to see is not a new vision or direction but rather better communication from the executive to the precinct level. She’d also like the party to more consistently adhere to its platform and focus on constitutional liberties and principles.

Change within political parties is hardly new, and Jerry McBeath, political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said changes in a party’s ideological emphases aren’t necessarily dangerous. He said any rifts right now won’t necessarily be long lasting and he said the result of this year’s elections will show if there’s truly trouble for the party, which has long held a huge advantage over Democrats in the number of registered voters.

Undeclared and nonpartisan voters continue to comprise the largest voting bloc in the state.

Tom Boutin, a Republican from Juneau who said he usually doesn’t attend statewide conventions and doesn’t plan to be at Saturday’s meeting, said he considers any bickering at the party level to be “merely part of the process we call democracy.”

But he also said he doesn’t feel that the Paul supporters — “these new conservative people” — “have been welcomed into the party as they should have been.” He said he hopes the governor and other elected Republicans will look at taking time to unite the party.

“I think all Alaska Republicans want the same outcomes for the state and the nation,” he said. “It’s entirely healthy and expected to see debates and even rancorous discussions about how to best achieve those outcomes.”

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