Tea party-backed Joe Miller, who is running for U.S. Senate in Alaska, tried to block the Troopergate investigation that dogged Sarah Palin in 2008 while she was running for vice president.
The year 2008 was a busy one for Joe Miller. An attorney in private practice who was also busy doing part-time legal work for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, he was also serving as the Interior region chair for the Alaska Republican Party. By March, he was actively working to unseat state party chair Randy Ruedrich in the belief the party needed a leader who would fully back Gov. Sarah Palin. Six months later, Miller signed on to represent a group trying to thwart a legislative investigation into whether Palin -- who had just rocketed onto the national stage as the GOP's pick for vice president -- abused the power of her office when she fired the state's top cop. Palin and Miller's paths would collide again two years later when the former governor endorsed Miller's run for Senate, drawing national attention to his campaign.
Critics on both sides viewed what would come to be known as the "Troopergate" scandal and all of its twists, including the investigations and the lawsuits, as political gymnastics. We don't know how Miller felt at the time or how he feels about it now. Attempts to reach him for comment on this story, through his campaign staff, went unanswered.
Miller's jump into the Troopergate fray came on Sept. 16, 2008, when he filed suit in Fairbanks to stop an investigation already set in motion by the state's Legislative Council. Miller sued on behalf of five Alaskans from the Fairbanks and North Pole communities who wished to "secure their rights as taxpayers and citizens of the State of Alaska to be free from unauthorized, wasteful, and unlawful government spending," according to the opening sentence of Miller's complaint.
The investigation into Troopergate was looking into allegations that Palin wrongfully removed Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan from office because he refused to end the career of her sister's ex-husband, Mike Wooten. Wooten was (and is) an Alaska State Trooper with a bitterly strained relationship with the Palin family. There were claims Wooten tried to threaten and intimidate the Palins, and Miller and others were baffled as to why the man continued to be employed in Palin's hometown.
The Legislature, however, was more interested in the governor's efforts to get Wooten fired. Miller centered his legal argument against the investigation on questions of constitutionality, echoing a theme the self-described "constitutional conservative" is again loudly raising in his bid to dislodge incumbent Lisa Murkowski from office: overreaching government authority. In his complaint he called the investigation "politically-inspired and unconstitutional."
Miller argued that another government entity -- the state Personnel Board -- was the appropriate jurisdiction to pursue claims about ethics problems within the executive branch. Allowing the Legislative Council to investigate opened the process to unfair political influences, he said. With a Democratic senator leading the charge and hinting the outcome wouldn't be good for Palin, the process lacked integrity and fairness, Miller argued.