GOP chairman Ruedrich faces possible coup

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2008

Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who has sparred with Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, faces a possible coup if he does not resign at the state convention next weekend.

Regional GOP Party Chairman Joe Miller, a Fairbanks attorney, told The Associated Press Saturday there's a "groundswell of support" from party members that could lead to a vote for Ruedrich's ouster.

As regional chairman, Miller said he oversees seven districts in the state's Interior region. He offered no data to illustrate the support, but spoke anecdotally about it.

"My assessment, based on conversations and reports that districts have given me, is there is overwhelming support for his resignation, and if that doesn't happen, then his forced removal," Miller said.

Ruedrich, however, says he intends to finish his four-year term, which expires in 2010, and represent the state at the national convention this summer.

"That's not a surprise," Ruedrich said. "Joe was there and voted on my re-election in his hometown two years ago. I was elected by the people and I am looking forward to serving out my term."

On Friday, Miller mailed fliers urging delegates to support a change that would put vice chair Cathy Giessel in charge. He said it takes two-thirds of those attending to suspend party rules and force Ruedrich out.

Giessel declined to comment on the prospects of a vote. She said thus far 401 of the possible 550 delegates have registered for the convention, the largest registration ever.

Miller says the beleaguered party - hobbled by the convictions of three former Republican lawmakers on federal corruption charges - needs a new direction, starting with a leader who supports Palin.

"The governor is an extraordinary asset," Miller said. "I stand with the view of the governor and legislators who want to restore public trust. She's made great strides, but has not received the support of the chair."

Ruedrich has been party chairman since 2000 when he inherited the post after Tuckerman Babcock stepped down. Ruedrich won the job in 2002 and again in 2006. He says he never expected to please the entire party with his work.

"No one is supported by 100 percent of any organization at any one time," Ruedrich said. "I look forward to working with Alaska Republicans for our common interests to elect Republicans up and down the ticket this November."

Palin was not available for comment on Saturday, but discussed her relationship with party leaders during the week. She said she plans on attending the conference, which starts Thursday.

"The Republican party has got to change," Palin said. "It's got to progress; it's got to clean up its act or we're not going to be taken seriously.

"It won't be taken seriously unless it changes course and starts understanding that not only in Alaska, but across the nation, people are craving change, not embracing the status quo."

She says the party's failure to simply acknowledge her administration on its Web site underscores the bigger problem.

In a section featuring state lawmakers, all the Republican members of the House and Senate, plus the state's Congressional delegation are listed. Only Palin and Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell are missing.

"You wouldn't know you had a Republican administration by looking at the Web site," she said. "When I saw that, I was laughing, thinking surely they wouldn't go that far."

Ruedrich said it was an oversight, adding that Palin's predecessor Frank Murkowski never had his name listed on that site page.

"I did not know this to be the case," Ruedrich said. "It's a simple oversight that will get fixed."

It was Palin who exposed Ruedrich for ethical violations five years ago when both served on Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Ruedrich admitted leaking a confidential memo to an energy company lobbyist and conducting partisan political activity from his state office.

That led to a $12,000 penalty, believed to be the state's largest civil fine for an ethics case.

Ruedrich resigned from the commission in 2004, but he kept his position with the party, and was re-elected chairman in 2006.

Ruedrich did not back Palin in the 2006 gubernatorial primary featuring Murkowski and John Binkley. The two say they have not spoken since she took office.

This is not the first call from a Republican for Ruedrich to step down.

Last August, Rep. Mike Kelly of Fairbanks called for Ruedrich as well as U.S. Sen Ted Stevens and U.S. Rep. Don Young to retire, saying the party needed a fresh start.

Kelly said he has not changed his position, saying it's an essential step toward rebuilding the state's confidence in the party.

"My point is not to hammer Randy Ruedrich," Kelly said. "Randy Ruedrich is an intelligent guy.

"It's to say we do have a choice and we can find new players that for this time would be better able to do the job for Alaska. I just think we need some new blood in there."

Paulette Simpson, president of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women, said the timing is "divisive and disruptive."

"We are supposed to be electing a national committee man and a national committee woman," Simpson said. "We have to follow our rules and our process. I like things to be orderly and according to the book, and this is outside of that."

Through it all, Ruedrich defends the work he's done for eight years.

"I have worked for the best interests for all Republicans in Alaska to get Republicans elected, including the governor," he said. "I plan on completing this term."

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