Last week, I was fortunate to be able to go to Palmer to represent the Capital City at the Juneau Booth at the Alaska State Fair. This annual outreach effort brings Juneau residents as ambassadors to the two largest summer fair gatherings on the Last Frontier, the Tanana Valley State Fair in Fairbanks and the Alaska State Fair in the Matanuska Valley. I went with fellow lifelong Alaskan Karen Jacobsen Hansen, my partner for this three-day volunteer shift for many years. It was once again most enjoyable answering people’s broad-ranging questions about Alaska’s capital city, and taking the time to engage Alaskans in a dialogue about what makes Juneau alluring and accessible. The Juneau presence at these two fairs is made possible by the collaborative efforts of the Alaska Committee, the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau (JCVB) and the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
Having first moved to Juneau in 1991 to work as a legislative aide, when the acrimonious political debate about moving the capital lingered heavily in the air, it is striking to remember how intensely some Alaskans have felt about this issue in the past. Having gone to work in the state Capitol in that pre-internet era, I concede that many of their concerns and criticisms were founded in fact, back when involvement in the state political process did require an in-person physical presence in the Capitol as the session wore on. Back then, I spent a great deal of time answering letters and reading and responding to public opinion messages, which were like telegrams sent by constituents from Legislative Information Offices across Alaska. It was a whole different world.
When I first volunteered at the State Fair in Palmer seven or eight years ago, people passing by the Juneau Booth would still sometimes mention moving the capital and try to converse — or even argue — about why Juneau shouldn’t be Alaska’s capital city. When they cited the difficulty of accessing their elected officials during the legislative session, I would try to show them exactly how to follow a bill through the Legislature’s website. Since my introduction-to-BASIS moments many years ago, the technological advances undertaken by the Legislative Affairs Agency have made it easy to interact with the Legislature from anywhere using an internet connection. Communication and computing technology has improved so exponentially, those impediments to following legislation, submitting comments and testifying at hearings have been eliminated. These tasks are as easily accomplished remotely as they are in person in Juneau.
Above and beyond being able to video and/or teleconference to legislative proceedings, Alaskans now benefit from many other steps Juneau has taken to offer the best capacity and service to the rest of Alaska as capital city. Through conscientious actions such as reaching out to legislators and staff to facilitate housing arrangements for the legislative session, and improving our parking and other infrastructure, Juneau helps make state government function smoothly and efficiently.
The number one thing people said when stopping by the Juneau Booth this year was along the lines of, “I have been to Juneau before, and I loved it,” often smiling as they simply enjoyed saying our name, “Juneau!” Folks who stopped by to chat ranged from those who’d last been in Juneau in the 1960s to those who were there on a cruiseship a few weeks ago. A common thread was fascination with Juneau as a unique and beautiful place, and many had a strong, pleasant memory of the Mendenhall Glacier, the University of Alaska Southeast, fishing in the salmon derby, or some other specific, individual highlight of the capital city. The State Fair is teeming with young people, and it was especially nice to talk to kids about their past visits or future plans to come to Juneau with their athletic team and see the excitement in their eyes.
People continue to inquire about the amenities Juneau offers as a capital city, and it remains satisfying to tell them of the wonders of our town, from the amazing array of outdoor activities to the myriad artistic opportunities. Many visitors fondly remember the Alaska State Museum, so this year it was especially nice to be able to tell people about the State Library, Archive & Museum project and the exciting prospects for visiting this tremendous new facility set to open in 2016 (thanks to its being fully funded in this year’s capital budget).
I am confident about Juneau’s future as capital city for a number of reasons. Recently concluded and underway improvements to our community include resurfaced roads, a new library and swimming pool, and safety-enhancing new lighting recently turned on along Egan Drive. More good works are yet to come, and we’ll continue to do a great job making Juneau a wonderful and efficient seat of State government and an amazing visitor destination.
Outreach efforts, however, simply can’t be ignored, and we all should work with the Alaska Committee, Juneau Chamber, and JCVB to make sure we all do our part both to make Juneau as strong a capital city as it can be, and also to spread the word so all Alaskans know how great Juneau does at being Alaska’s Capital City