The guest who will not leave

    As we attend to the unfinished business of 2010, let us honor the winner of this year’s John Belushi “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave” Award. That would be Joe Miller, the tea-party darling and Sarah Palin fave who lost his Republican Senate race in an embarrassing fashion, yet refuses to return to the Alaskan obscurity from whence he came.Some of you oldsters may recall the Belushi character on Saturday Night Live who shows up for a party, craps up the place, overstays his welcome, and spurns every hint from his exhausted hosts that it’s time for him to go. Well, Joe Miller passed that point weeks ago, when it became clear that he had been decisively beaten by a candidate who wasn’t even on the Alaska ballot, write-in Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski. Still, he wouldn’t leave. Instead, he sued in court, in a bid to disenfranchise thousands of Murkowski voters who spelled her name wrong when they wrote her in.Last week, it appeared his desperate quest was over when the Alaska Supreme Court unanimously decreed that he had no case. Citing previous state rulings, the judges pointed out that Alaska has long stressed the “paramount” importance of “voter intent”; in other words, if it’s clear who the voter is choosing (notwithstanding a spelling error), then the vote should count. The judges concluded that it was time for Miller to leave, and for Murkowski to be named the winner, by a margin exceeding 10,000 votes. All told, the judges found “no remaining issues raised by Miller that prevent this election from being certified.”At that point, a few days before Christmas, a rational fellow would have recognized reality and gone away. Yet Miller is still with us. Early yesterday, he announced a brand-new strategy. He won’t try any longer to block Murkowski’s certification (that’s big of him), but he does plan to sue anew – this time, in federal court. He still thinks that Murkowski’s win was “artificially inflated” by illegal votes, that the issue of misspelled write-in ballots is still a “live controversy,” and that if he can get the federal judges to throw out some of those ballots, it would narrow the margin of his loss and therefore improve his “future viability as a candidate.”Wow. His hypocrisy is so thick that you need a blowtorch to cut it.For starters, I was led to believe that conservative tea-partiers were sticklers for state’s rights. Yet here is Miller, refusing to accept the ruling of his state’s highest court, which based its ruling on state law and state legal precedent. I always thought that tea-partiers abhorred “judicial tyranny,” whereby “unelected” federal judges would “legislate from the bench,” rewrite the laws, and overturn legal precedents. Yet here is Miller, asking the unelected federal judges to step in and basically rewrite the ways that Alaska officials have long interpreted their own election laws.Put simply, Alaska’s highest court based its ruling on two previous Alaska cases in which ballots were counted for a candidate even when they were not filled out correctly. What mattered most was voter intent. As the Alaska Supreme Court wrote in a 1978 case, “Courts are reluctant to permit a wholesale disenfranchisement of qualified electors.” So whenever a voter’s intent is clear, “the courts should and will favor it.” Moreover, voter intent has been a legal credo nationwide since at least 1885 – and Alaska is traditionally one of the strongest adherents. After all, the credo is supposed to ensure that a write-in candidate is not penalized on election day just because his or her name might be difficult to spell. (Actually, even if Miller had succeeded in throwing out every challenged Murkowski ballot, she still would have beaten him by roughly 2000 votes.)Miller clearly wants to have a future in politics – hence, his reference yesterday to “future viability” – but his tone deafness does him no favors. His new crusade basically hinges on persuading federal judges that lots of Alaska voters should be disenfranchised, which hardly seems like a way to endear oneself to Alaska voters. But this is merely the latest in a long string of Miller oddities.As Sarah Palin’s autumn stalking horse, Miller insisted that federal jobless benefits were unconstitutional. Then it turned out that his own wife had received such benefits.Miller insisted that federal health care entitlements, including Medicaid, were unconstitutional. Then it turned out that he and his family had received Medicaid.Miller denounced federal spending on agriculture. Then it turned out that, back in the ’90s, he had received federal agriculture subsidies for a farm he owned.Miller assailed Denali KidCare, a health program heavily subsidized by the feds, and he rebuked Murkowski for having supported it. Then it turned out that his own kids had received Denali KidCare.So you see the problem. The bottom line is, Joe Miller didn’t lose his Senate race because some Alaskans misspelled Murkowski’s name. He blew his Senate race because the voters assessed the chasm that separated his tea-party talk from his personal actions, and found him fraudulent. Insulting the voters even in defeat, by trying to disenfranchise them in federal court, will only cement his reputation.——-And speaking of unfinished business, we’ll conclude the year around here in this manner:Tomorrow, my list of the best political books of 2010.Thursday, my annual bad political behavior awards.Friday, nothing. Zip. Nada.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.