Democrats Beware, Republicans Have Their Shit Together…and 7 Other Observations From The Republican Pow-Wow

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Historians are fond of saying the War of 1812 turned the United States from an “are” to an “is.” The election of new Chairman Tuckerman Babcock may be doing the same thing for the Alaska Republican Party (AKGOP).

The AKGOP State Central Committee (SCC) meeting, held Saturday, was the first since new party leadership was elected at the state convention a little over a month ago. The committee acts as the state party’s board of directors and meets quarterly.  

I have probably attended dozens of these meetings over the last decade and a half. All of them were either with Randy Ruedrich as Chairman or still wielding power from behind the throne of the Chairmanship of Peter Goldberg.

For those of you who have never been, SCC meetings during that time typically felt like someone took all of the naturally occurring animosity, tension and faked sincerity of Thanksgiving Dinner with your family, injected it with steroids, and went pro with it. No matter what was on the agenda, half the attendees walked into the room pissed off at something someone was trying to do to Ruedrich or, more often, something he had done to someone else.

The meetings gave the Party the feel of a forced marriage no one wanted to be in, but everyone stayed in for the sake of their elected children.

In short, this SCC meeting was stunningly different from any I had attended before.  

People walked in the room at 9:45 pretty happy to be there and walked out of the meeting at 3:30 (astonishingly) still pretty happy. There were rounds of applause after items of business were voted on, District Chairs informally competed for the funniest quip during their reports, and the word “fun” was dropped like it was part of a drinking game. That this mood was cultivated on a summer Saturday afternoon when everyone—INCLUDING ME—would rather be elsewhere, was even more amazing.

Tuckerman Babcock

Tuckerman Babcock

Credit for this transformation pretty obviously goes to new Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock and Vice-Chairman Rick Whitbeck. Babcock has been Pete Carroll-esc in proclaiming the party under his command will be more fun.

Some of those parroting his proclamations of fun at the SCC meeting were clearly doing so sarcastically, but many weren’t. Even the sarcastic ones did it in a joking fashion that was kind of…..FUN. It was like Babcock and Whitbeck Jedi-mind-tricked the room into enjoying themselves and acting with civility towards one another.

For the first time in all the years I have attended AKGOP functions, this is the first time I ever felt those in attendance were part of a coherent “is” rather than a band of bitchy Rs.

Democrats take heed, a Republican Party not wasting half its energy trying to destroy itself could be a major force come this fall.

Other Observations:

Bayoneting Ben — Former Republican Majority Leader Rep. Lance Pruitt responded to a district Chairman’s concern that no Republican would run against Barrow Democrat Rep. Ben Nageak by saying “Ben Nageak is probably one of the best Republicans we have.”

That is great; except Nageak looks to have a pretty tough primary race on his hands against Kotzebue’s Dean Westlake. I doubt rural Dems will take kindly to urban white Republican’s proclaiming their representative more Republican than Republicans are.

Campaign Money For Everybody — District 18 Chairman Jim Crawford is also one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to declare Alaska’s campaign contribution limits unconstitutional. During his district report, Crawford added that he and his fellow litigants are expecting a ruling in that case “any day now.” If a ruling were to come down right now, in between legislative sessions, and with only weeks before the primary election, it could open the floodgates to money flowing into campaigns and dramatically impact the elections.

Moving The Party — The SCC voted to move party offices from their current location on Fireweed, near Spenard, to Don Young’s campaign office on Fairbanks Street. When one committee member asked for an explanation for why the party was moving from its current location Vice-Chairman Whitbeck bluntly stated, “because it’s a dive.”

Truer words were never spoken.

The move does beg a few questions raised by the committee. First off, how will the party account for the space under campaign finance rules? Party leadership said the Young campaign will be providing the space for free to the party for the next six months. That is fine so long as the AKGOP assigns the correct value to the space and that cumulative value never exceeds how much Young or his campaign are allowed to give to the party.  

This shouldn’t be a problem as Babcock said the location is only temporary, and the party will find new digs after the election.

Also of concern to committee members was, as one member put it, “who lives next door?” Apparently many, including Rep. Craig Johnson don’t know who else resides on Fairbanks Street.  The Vice-Chairman referred those unknowing to a column posted Friday in the eminently citable Midnight Sun for a full explanation.

Begich Joins The Republican Party — In perhaps the most interesting, and least questioned, move of the day, Babcock appointed Nicholas Begich to co-chair the SCC’s Finance (fundraising) committee. One person moved to challenge the appointment, but that motion didn’t even draw a second, and the motion died quietly.

It is surprising no one asked the obvious question of how Nicholas will handle raising money against his uncles Tom and Mark. Tom Begich is running for State Senate in Downtown Anchorage and looks like a favorite to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. As for Mark Begich, the entire AKGOP seems consumed with the conviction that he is running for Governor in two years. If either of those pans out, how will young Nicholas handle the family drama?  

No one on SCC asked that question, but I did.  Nicholas would only give a Cheshire cat grin and say “my job is to raise money for the Republican party” and Mark Begich offered only, “I wish him the best.”

Now, you may read that as a non-answer from Mark, but I prefer to read it as a cryptic version of “I know it was you, Fredo.” But that’s just for my entertainment.

It is a brilliant move for Nicholas. His biggest problem in running for Anchorage Assembly last year was that he was playing for Republican votes in conservative Eagle River while sporting the one name every Republican hates. Begich hadn’t been involved in the Republican Party at all, and we are by nature a suspicious bunch. As a result, no one gave him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t a plant from Mark.

This new position will give him a chance to show his fellow Republicans his true colors and build some badly needed conservative street cred. It was a great move on his part.

Other Appointments — Begich wasn’t the only appointment Saturday.  In fact, the newly elected Babcock offered a slew of appointments to all kinds of party post. They all went through without a hitch.   

Showing a continued commitment to unifying the party, Babcock appointed both Lance Roberts and Robin Phillips to the Rules Committee. Roberts was a long-time right-wing thorn in the side of Randy Ruedrich, and Phillips is known for her moderate politics and allegiance to Lisa Murkowski. Appointing both to what can be a pivotal committee when party drama starts cracking is a sign Babcock isn’t afraid of any of the party’s factions and wants all of them to feel they have a place and voice in the party.

Another noteworthy appointment was Alaska Support Industry Alliance (The Alliance) General Manager Rebecca Logan to chair the party’s Task Force on Municipal and Local Elections.  The appointment pretty much solidifies my view that The Alliance is just the industry sub-committee of the Republican Party.

That said, the task force is a good idea. The AKGOP has been on a losing streak in local elections so having someone take a look and make recommendations on how to change that is something that needs to be done.

Killing Off Colver —  If you are a political junkie you’ve probably already read how the AKGOP endorsed challenger George Rauscher over incumbent Rep. Jim Colver in the House District 9 primary.

I’ll only add two points to that story. First, this wasn’t an administrative move.  The Republicans in that room Saturday were pissed as hell at Colver for his work in the Musk Ox Caucus.  If there was something worse than a pre-primary endorsement of his challenger they were legally empowered to do to him, trust me, they would.

The move was also the scene of some great political theater.  As the committee members debated the issue, Chairman Babcock asked to speak.  He took a beat before rising out of his seat, giving the room time to go silent.  He stood, adjusted his belt, and said in a soft but stern tone: “For the Republican Party to weigh in against a Republican incumbent is a major step to take…If you vote to endorse George Rauscher against the Republican incumbent, everyone in this room needs to be committed to electing George Rauscher otherwise this party runs the risk of being a toothless tiger.”

When he finished his remarks, the room erupted in applause signaling unified commitment to the cause of beating Colver.

Knowing I probably wouldn’t  do the scene justice, I taped it:

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Other recipients of pre-primary endorsements included Rep. Cathy Tilton, Rep. Dan Saddler, Rep. Lora Reinbold, Rep. Mike Gordon, Marilynn Stewart, Rep. Lance Pruitt, and Sen. Cathy Giessel.

The Un-Happening — As I reported on Friday there was a movement afoot to get the SCC to offer Mayor Dan Sullivan a pre-primary endorsement against Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Not only did the endorsement not happen, no one even ended up proposing it.

There was clearly some behind-the-scenes wrangling to prevent the effort from occurring.  can’t tell you exactly what happened, but I can say Murkowski’s Campaign Manager Steve Wackowski made a bee-line for me after the meeting and said, “On the record, it pays to have an organization in place.” So there you go.

About the Author

Casey Reynolds
Reynolds served as communications director for the Alaska Republican Party from 2008-2011. He left the Party in 2011 to host his own popular morning radio political talk show on AM750 / FM103.7 KFQD. Reynolds now runs The Midnight Sun (midnightsunak.com), crowned by the Anchorage Press as “Alaska’s best political blog.”