The buzz this week is about a 43-year-old Fairbanks lawyer who seems to have knocked Senator Lisa Murkowski out of the Alaskan Republican primary for U.S. Senate. So, who is Joe Miller? Right now, he’s not talking to journalists, so it’s hard to tell but here’s what I’ve managed to gather about him:
The bearded self-described frontiersman, who looks more comfortable in a plaid flannel shirt than a suit, grew up in Kansas. He attended West Point, graduating with honors, became a commissioned officer. He fought in the first Gulf War where he won a Bronze Star for valor. He then attended Yale Law School — a fact he doesn’t broadcast on his resume — before joining a “prestigious law firm,” according to his bio, in Anchorage at the age of 27. Miller was attracted to Alaska because of his love for the great outdoors. “There is a spirit of adventure here. I’ve been able to live in its most populous city, Anchorage, out in the bush — as we call it — in Tok, and now in Fairbanks,” Miller told Human Events Online.
After three years in Anchorage he was appointed a state magistrate and a superior court master for the 4th Judicial District, eventually becoming U.S. Magistrate in Fairbanks, a post from which he resigned in 2004 to run for state representative. He eked out a close primary victory only to lose in the general to incumbent Democrat David Guttenberg.
By then, Miller had been bitten by the political bug and he and his wife of 18 years, Kathleen Tompkins-Miller — who was appointed last year to the non-attorney seat on Alaska’s Judicial Council, a seven-member panel that nominates state judges — had befriended the Palin family. Miller worked with Palin two years ago when she unsuccessfully tried to unseat Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich.
“I think it’s a personal thing between Sarah Palin and Joe Miller. They’ve got a relationship, their families have been friends, so I think it’s more of an issue of their friendship,” Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News in July, shrugging off Palin’s endorsement of her opponent. “We’re a small state, people know one another, sometimes you find yourself in an election where your personal relationships allow you to be supporting people that you ordinarily would not have.”
Miller, 43, ran a scrappy campaign, coming at Murkowski from the right. He labeled Murkowski a “statist,” who believes in state rather than individual solutions. Miller emphasized that he was running to prevent a “headlong plunge into socialism,” he told supporters in announcing his candidacy from the Capitol steps in Juneau in April.
He quietly garnered endorsements from Red State’s Eric Erickson, Alaska Right to Life, Mike Huckabee, talk radio stars Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham. But it was Sarah Palin’s glowing 735-word facebook endorsement of Miller in June that put him on the national map. “Contested primaries are so good for America’s political process,” Palin wrote. “Competition makes everyone work harder, be more efficient, debate clearer, and produce more. So, Alaskans should be thrilled that Joe Miller jumped in the GOP race and is ready, willing, and able to serve us as our next United States Senator.” The move drew the attention of the Tea Part Express, which endorsed Miller and invested $550,000 in his candidacy.
More than half a million dollars buys a lot of TV time in the relatively-cheap Alaska market. And Miller needed it. He’d only raised $238,000 — $104,000 from his own pocketbook — to take on Murkowski, who had a war chest of nearly $3 million.
Miller benefited from a ballot initiative — Alaska’s first on abortion — known as Measure 2, which requires clinics to inform parents of teens seeking abortions under the age of 18. The proposition passed with 55% of the vote. Miller was strongly for it. Murkowski was also for it, but Miller never failed to remind voters that Murkowski is pro-choice. That and Miller’s insinuations that Murkowski was sympathetic to climate change legislation, voted for the bank bail out and wasn’t tough enough on health care reform assisted Miller at polls. It also didn’t help that Murkowski didn’t perceive the threat until far too late: she refused to go negative on Miller until the last week of the campaign and by then too many minds were already made up.
There is still a chance that Murkowski could pull out a victory when the absentee ballots are counted, though she’d have to garner 56% of them — against the trend of the ballots already counted — to win. In the meantime, Dems are wasting no time painting Miller in the vein of Sharron Angle and Rand Paul. The day after the primary, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out a press release highlighting Miller’s support in phasing out Medicare and Social Security, getting rid of the Departments of Energy and Education. “Joe Miller seems more intent on imposing a strict social doctrine to please his out-of-state tea party backers but would leave the people of his state high and dry,” the DSCC said. “Alaskans deserve a senator who will stick up for them in the United States Senate.”
There is a certain irony of an Alaskan running on a small government ticket, given that Alaska is the least developed and most-highly subsidized state in the union. But Miller says that sky rocketing deficits will hurt Alaskans more in the long run than short-term losses in benefits. “We must reverse course as a nation,” he told Human Events. “If we don’t, big government running amuck with a stagnant economy and a sovereign debt crisis will drive us into a situation worse than Greece. Nothing is big enough to bail the United States out. And those most dependent on the federal government will be devastated by such insolvency.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to figure out of their candidate, Scott McAdams of Sitka, could win against Miller. “Welcome to Alaskan politics, anything can happen, everything’s viable,” Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat who won a surprise victory over Ted Stevens in 2008, told the Anchorage Daily News this week. “It doesn’t take a lot of money, but it takes someone who is committed and hard working and can run a campaign. So, I tell people and I’ve been telling people that this race shouldn’t be discounted out and has potential.” After all, we’re getting used to surprises from the Last Frontier.