Mike Miller eyes U.S. Senate race

Outgoing commissioner: Incumbent is vulnerable to charge of nepotism

Posted: Wednesday, March 24, 2004

FAIRBANKS - Days after announcing his resignation as state Administration Commissioner, Mike Miller said he's eyeing the U.S. Senate office held by fellow-Republican Lisa Murkowski.

Miller, a former state senator, said several Republican Party leaders and "stalwarts" asked him to run against Murkowski. He leaves his present post April 1.

Miller, 52, said he will decide by April 15 whether to seek the party's nomination in this fall's primary election.

"We're still talking about it," Miller said, referring to himself and his wife, Susan. They own and operate Santa Claus House, a family business in North Pole, a town of 1,700 near Fairbanks.

Miller said state Republicans should have a choice of who will face Democrat Tony Knowles in November. He said some Republicans feel as he does, that a Murkowski-Knowles contest might turn into a referendum on nepotism rather than issues and that Knowles could come out on top.

"I don't necessarily see that she's a bad candidate," Miller said. "I think I'm more qualified."

If talk of nepotism enters the race, Knowles said, it won't be because he brings it up.

"I'm not going to make it my issue. I don't think it's relevant," the former governor said in an interview last week, before there was any news of Miller's potential candidacy.

Bob King, Knowles' spokesman, declined comment Monday. "This is one that the Republicans have to figure out," he said.

Miller described himself as more conservative on social and fiscal issues than Murkowski.

Justin Stiefel, Murkowski's campaign manager, defended the senator's conservative credentials, saying she has shown herself to be a strong supporter of President Bush's tax cuts, the war on terrorism and gun rights since her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her to his vacated Senate seat in December 2002.

Miller said he asked the newly elected governor to consider appointing him to finish the two years left in the congressional term. Instead, the governor chose his daughter but hired Miller a few months later to lead the Department of Administration, which handles state labor contracts and personnel issues, vehicle registrations, purchasing and accounting, among other functions.

Miller said if he runs for U.S. Senate, he would be far outspent by Murkowski, who had raised $1.8 million in campaign funds by the end of 2003, and Knowles, who had collected $1 million.

"The one thing that people forget about is that Alaskans cannot be bought," Miller said. After a certain point, he said, money spent on advertising doesn't produce more votes. "You've got to get it the old-fashioned way."

Miller served for 18 years in the Alaska Legislature from North Pole and was his party's nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994, spending about $67,000 on the campaign.

Miller's Republican ticket, with gubernatorial candidate Jim Campbell, lost to Knowles and Fran Ulmer by fewer than 500 votes - and that was with conservative Jack Coghill getting 13 percent of the state vote as the Alaskan Independence Party candidate. Green Party candidate Jim Sykes, then running for governor and now also running for Senate, polled about 4 percent in 1994.

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