Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Did Jim Whitaker Just Hand The Alaska U.S. Senate Election To Lisa Murkowski? Whitaker Claims Miller Used Borough Computers To Engage In Partisan Political Activism

Update October 14th: Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich partially rebuts Jim Whitaker's allegations; see updated post HERE.

If Lisa Murkowski wins re-election to the U.S. Senate on November 2nd, 2010, she may be able to date her success back to October 13th, and credit former Fairbanks Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker with an assist. On October 13th, Whitaker, a Republican who jumped ship to endorse Barack Obama in 2008, disclosed that he learned from several borough officials that Joe Miller was caught using borough computers in March 2008 for partisan political activity, to include an attempted coup to replace the chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, while he (Miller) was still employed as a borough attorney. Original story by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner; also picked up by the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU Channel 2.

Jim Whitaker was the Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor at the time, and was informed of the incident by his chief of staff, the borough attorney and the personnel director. Whitaker said it was his understanding that Miller was also trying to get himself elected as state party chairman and using multiple computers to do it. Whitaker said his information on this came from one of the borough employees who briefed him on the matter; apparently it was necessary to have a different computer I.D. number in order to have the vote be valid. The borough employee suspected something amiss about her own computer; borough technicians investigated and found that her computer and others had been used to send information to the Republican Party. Whitaker said Miller’s actions violated the borough’s ethics policy, which does not allow employees to engage in politics on government time and with government equipment, but did not result in a termination because the borough needed Miller to continue working on its lawsuit about how much to tax the trans-Alaska pipeline system. Whitaker said his understanding is that Miller was reprimanded by the borough attorney and was to be suspended without pay. There was also apparently a memo from Miller through the borough attorney where he admitted it, but Whitaker hasn't seen Miller's personnel file and can't verify if the memo is therein.

Yet Whitaker held his peace as the Miller campaign developed, because he wanted to give Joe Miller the first opportunity to voluntarily disclose the information. But when Joe Miller abruptly cut off any further media inquiry into his personal life the other day, Whitaker decided that, because Miller's activities happened during his watch, he had an obligation to step forward and tell the truth as he knows it. For the record, Whitaker said he has neither contributed to any candidate in the tightly contested Senate race between Miller, Murkowski, or Democrat Scott McAdams and write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, nor has any campaign asked him to come forward with the information.

Miller has previously declined to release additional information from his personnel file or to allow the release of other information by the borough, saying that such a release would violate attorney-client privilege and that the borough would need to provide a release.

More information about Joe Miller's departure from his job as a borough attorney was also published by the News-Miner. Readers may recall that Miller resigned on September 1st, 2009 because his request for leave to go elk hunting with his sons was turned down because he was needed in the office. The reason he was needed at the office because two other attorneys were off at the same time; one attorney was pregnant, and the other was recovering from a heart attack. The resignation and the circumstances made him ineligible for re-hire.

When media sources contacted the Miller campaign for reaction, Randy DeSoto would not elaborate, merely reminding reporters that Miller no longer wanted to discuss his personal life publicly. But Lisa Murkowski, who made her write-in candidacy "official" today, and Scott McAdams both talked to KTUU about the allegations against Miller. “If you're going to hold yourself out as a candidate, to ask for the opportunity to serve Alaskans for six years in the U.S. Senate, then you need to let the people that you are seeking to represent, you need to let them know who you are,” said Murkowski, while McAdams said “Too much attention has been diverted to the train wreck that has surrounded Joe Miller's campaign. I think it's important we continue to focus on issues."

Analysis: This may be the last straw for Joe Miller, unless he addresses this issue publicly. He should hold a press conference where he would disclose whether or not Whitaker's statements are true, and explain his actions and his thinking at the time. By itself, this would be a minor problem, but in context with the delay in filing a disclosure report to a Senate committee, along with controversy over his hiring of his wife as an assistant while serving as a Federal magistrate, may make this new disclosure the straw that breaks the camel's back. With the polls showing a toss-up between Murkowski and Miller, one mistake can be fatal.

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