AP Interview: Miller acknowledges past government benefits, says irrelevant to Senate race

By Becky Bohrer, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

AP Interview: Miller: Past benefits irrelevant

JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller believes recent reports that he and his family have received government benefits are “pretty darn irrelevant” to the race.

Miller, the fiscal conservative and political upstart who upset Sen. Lisa Murkowski in last month’s GOP primary, told The Associated Press he won’t deny that he and his family received government benefits.

Last week, the Alaska Dispatch reported that Miller received more than $7,000 in federal farm subsidies for land he owned in Kansas in the 1990s. On Tuesday, the Anchorage Daily News reported that Miller and his wife obtained hunting and fishing licenses at the low-income rate when they were new to Alaska.

To qualify for such a license, the state Fish and Game Department says a person needs to have lived in Alaska for the previous 12 months and either been on welfare or had an annual family gross income of less than $8,200 for the year prior to applying. Campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto told the newspaper Miller qualified at the time for the license, which cost $5 compared to the $55 a resident typically would have paid. DeSoto said Miller had previously been a full-time law student on scholarship and that family expenses were paid through loans.

Miller believes digging 15 years or more into his past to try to find a government benefit he received seeks to “undercut the debate that’s going on now” and is “pretty darn irrelevant.” But he said he wants to be open about it, though he considers it unreasonable to expect he’ll have all the records at his immediate disposal.

“Any time you displace power, there is a real solid, and, I think, aggressive effort to try to distort, to try to shift the debate from the issues that are before voters to other issues that really are not directly relevant,” he said in a phone interview late Tuesday from Washington, D.C., where he expects to meet with lawmakers and to raise money for his campaign.

“So, I expected it. It’s unfortunate. I think Alaskans are smart enough to figure it out, and we’re just going to drive on with the campaign, and we’ll try to answer the questions the press presents to us. We’re going to try to be as forthright as we can.”

Miller said he can’t recall the circumstances around which he and his wife received the licenses. “I know at the time I felt that I qualified,” he said, and agreed he wouldn’t have accepted a benefit he didn’t believe he’d qualified for.

Questions have been raised about how someone who met the income threshold for a low-income license also would be able to buy a home, which Miller did in September 1994, months after he first arrived in Alaska. DeSoto told the Daily News that Miller used proceeds from the sale of farmland in his native Kansas in buying the house.

He and his wife obtained the less-expensive licenses in 1995, the year he also got hired at a law firm. Records show his wife also got a low-income license in 1996; Miller himself got a regular resident license that year.

Miller said he doesn’t see “any irreconcilable problem,” between the couple qualifying for low-income licenses based on their prior year’s income, and their securing of a mortgage. “But, again, I’d like to look at all those standards and everything else before I offer a conclusive comment. I’d like to look at the license, too, for that matter.”

Steve Wackowski, a Murkowski campaign spokesman, questioned Miller’s honesty and how Miller was able to get both a low-income license and buy a home.

“How can the people of Alaska trust Joe Miller with federal dollars and critical federal legislation if he can’t manage his own personal affairs?” Wackowski said in a statement Wednesday.

The Democrat in the race, Scott McAdams, also raised questions about Miller’s credibility and offered harsh words: “Trying to get something for nothing is what people do in Washington D.C., not in Alaska,” he said in a news release.

Miller believes the federal government is on the brink of bankruptcy. He has said federal spending must be reined in, citing ballooning deficits, and called for an end to the “welfare state.”

Critics have blasted him as a hypocrite, a characterization DeSoto has called unfair and unfounded.

Miller said he is currently not receiving any benefits.

“I come from a working class background. Even though I’ve done well for myself over the last several years, that’s not always been the case,” he said, adding that many undergraduates receive federally backed loans or financial aid. “I have a large family; we’ve struggled like a lot of Alaskans have struggled and we made ends meet.”

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