Russ Millette at left; photo courtesy Facebook
FAIRBANKS — After a dramatic change-up in the Alaska Republican Party’s leadership, chairman-elect Russ Millette is meeting with Republicans in Fairbanks this weekend to settle concerns and answer questions about his vision for the party’s future.
Millette — an unknown in state politics before his election by a coalition of Ron Paul supporters and members of the Tea Party at the convention last month — met with Fairbanks Republicans at their weekly luncheon to talk campaigning, candidate recruitment, party platform and fundraising.
Millette will replace outgoing chairman Randy Ruedrich early next year, but will serve as the party’s finance chairman until then. Ruedrich was well-known for his ability to unite the state’s wide variety of Republicans and was a powerful fundraiser, a realm where Millette is untested.
When asked about what he plans for the Republican party, the 67-year-old retired advertising executive for GTE Directories Publishing Corporation avoided many specific details about his plans, instead opting to focus on his intention steer the party toward a “constitutionally conservative” platform, a statement that was generally well-received by attendees.
“I want to return to the party to its constitutional tradition,” he said. “I was elected to get Republicans elected to office and Democrats out of office. …My job is to find candidates who are constitutionally conservative, and I want to find constitutional conservatives to run.”
He said, however, that he didn’t plan on pulling support from moderate Republican candidates, like the senators who teamed up with Democrats to form a bipartisan majority. Instead, he said that will be “up to the voters.”
When asked about this fall’s political layout, Millette said he was confident that Republican influence in the redistricting process would yield good results come this fall.
“Randy Ruedrich to his credit shared this with me… he had an influence in redistricting — not just he alone, but others had influence. …He said Bettye Davis, Bill Wielechowski and Hollis French have all been put in different districts,” he said of the Anchorage-area Democrats. “The way it was described to me, is those three senators are going to be bad memories in November.”
The state redistricting map is currently under legal challenge and has been accused of carving out districts that favor Republican candidates.
When reminded about the public nature of his comments, Millette backed away from his certainty of the defeat, saying “I hope they would be bad memories in November.” Millette wouldn’t comment on the issue further.
The meeting wasn’t a home run for Millette, and he had to answer a handful of skeptical questions about his track record and ability when he takes the wheel of the party next fall.
For instance, Millette was questioned on his allegiance to the Republican party. Millette has switched his party affiliation between Republican and undeclared a number of times, as most recently as just prior to this year’s Republican primaries, according to the Alaska Division of Elections. To that, Millette said he hasn’t always been satisfied with the national party.
“I haven’t always been happy with every Republican nominee on the federal level,” he said.
That answer elicited some eye-rolling from some members, which continued when Millette laid out his vision of new staff for the state party. One woman asked, “Where are we going to get the money?” The party’s savings were transferred to Juneau Republicans just before Millette and a slew of other like-minded leadership was elected.
Millette said he would be open to new ideas of reaching younger voters and expanded fundraising efforts.
The chairman-elect did score some points when he asked about his overall plan for the party, saying that he plans on ushering in a new era of openness and transparency with party decisions. He also said his overall goal is to win elections.
“I was not elected to set policy,” he said. “I was elected to to get Republicans elected to office and get Democrats out of office.”
Contact Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Matt Buxton at 907-459-7544.