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For Alaska's restive right, it's Joe Miller time

A Yale-educated lawyer and former tank commander on track for the U.S. Senate is saying extreme things, even by frontier standards.

September 07, 2010|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

Miller took an internship in Anchorage, and after graduation, faced with the traditional Ivy League option of a lucrative job at an East Coast law firm, he chose to head to the natural beauty, frontier spirit — and wide-open politics — of the 49th state. He took a job with a law firm in Anchorage.

Later, he served as a state and federal magistrate, acting district judge and a deputy attorney for Fairbanks' North Star Borough. In recent years, he has been running his own law practice and completing a master's in economics at the University of Alaska.

The family, now with eight children, ages 7 to 21, lives on 20 acres outside of Fairbanks. The youngest of the children attend the Christian school where Kathleen teaches. Miller, who resembles a lumberjack with his rugged good looks and shadowy beard, often goes hunting and boating with the chief pastor and board members at his nondenominational Friends Community Church, Fairbanks' largest congregation.

"He and I and the pastor's wife — she's a professor of economics at the university — spend a lot of time talking about our view of the economy: lower taxes, less government spending, freeing up the market to create jobs and to be the engine of the economy," said Brian Bennett, assistant pastor.

Miller ran for the state Legislature in 2004 against Democrat David Guttenberg and lost by 3.5 percentage points.

Guttenberg said Miller seemed to have little interest in talking about how to fix Alaska's social and development problems. "It became obvious how absolutely arrogant this guy was," Guttenberg said. "All he cares about is his constitutional gobbledygook.... He's on track to become emperor of the universe."

Miller alienated many moderate Republicans when, backed by the Tea Party Express, he attacked Murkowski and her voting record on the federal healthcare reform bill. When Murkowski launched brief discussions with the Libertarian Party about joining its ticket after her loss, a Miller staffer, purportedly without the candidate's authorization, sent a Twitter message: "What's the difference between selling out your party's values and the oldest profession?"

Later, Miller apologized, saying he meant it was the party, not Murkowski, who was for sale. But many of the senator's supporters, particularly women, were distraught.

"There are Lisa supporters who have been in tears the last few days," said Rhonda Boyles, who isn't among them. Boyles, who is vice president of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women and was mayor of Fairbanks when Miller was hired on as an attorney, counts herself as a onetime moderate who has hurtled to the right since President Obama's election.

"Both my husband and I, we're both business people, and we are very, very afraid for where our country is headed. We see people like Joe as having the ability to make a change," Boyles said.

She predicted Miller would adopt a more collaborative style if elected, but noted, "He's a tank commander. And he's out to win."

Miller did not hesitate to fire his campaign manager, Paul Bauer, 11 days before the primary when Bauer's wife was captured in an iPhone video at an Anchorage pub, aiming a profanity-laced tirade at a group of college Republicans and a talk show host she believed had unfairly impugned her husband.

"Wife of Joe Miller's campaign manager caught on tape threatening to bury talk show host alive" was one of the headlines on a local news website.

Through it all, Miller has kept his eye on his vision of the future: a country in peril of collapsing under the expanding federal debt.

"By some estimates, 40% of our economy is derived in some sense by the federal government," he said. "But I think Alaskans are common-sense folk, and they recognize that the insolvent position we're in as a nation can't be perpetuated."

kim.murphy@latimes.com

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