Joe Miller Attempts to Skew Ethics Scandal to His Advantage

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Joe Miller has been having a rough go of it. The Republican Senate nominee in Alaska has been the subject of media scrutiny first for an incident involving his private security guards, and now for ethics violations that have come to light.

When Miller's guards handcuffed an Alaska reporter at a town hall, they claimed it was because the reporter was "stalking" Miller. The reporter had indeed been asking Miller questions after the event, which was open to the public, specifically about accusations of ethics violations while Miller was working as an attorney at the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The Alaska media was locked in a legal battle with Miller over the release of Miller's personnel record from the borough; with the media seeking release of the record, Miller claimed that releasing it would violate his right to privacy, and the journalists claimed he'd ceded that right when he chose to run for office.

Miller already had a rocky history with the Alaska media, having vowed that he would not answer questions about his personal background. That stance made him look foolish in light of a string of revelations about how Miller and his family had benefited from the very federal largesse (farm subsidies, unemployment benefits) that he's spent his campaign condemning. 

But after an Alaska judge ruled that the public's right to information about a candidate for office outweighed that candidate's right to privacy and that the borough must release Miller's record, Miller changed his line on personal transparency.

The records have not yet been released, but Miller has already admitted to being docked three days' pay for conducting political polling on borough computers. When questioned about the incident in a debate with Democratic nominee Scott McAdams and Republican write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski, Miller managed to find a silver lining in his ethical slip:

Miller said Alaskans probably know more about him than any other candidate. And he said that's probably a good thing because they "get to understand that, hey, they're electing somebody like them." ...

"I've gone through trials. I've not always had a silver spoon," he said. "I've had challenges in life and that gives them an empathy for where I'm at, and I think that's a value that I bring to the table."

It's unlikely that voters do actually know more about Miller than about Murkowski, whose political lineage (her father was a longtime senator from Alaska and then its governor) means that her family has long been scrutinized by the Alaska media. But no matter -- props to him for a deft pivot from media stonewaller to relatable victim.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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