One of the state Legislature's biggest opponents of Juneau as the capital has been named to a new city committee formed to explore building a new capitol here.
Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican, was one of 16 people appointed to serve on Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho's Capitol Planning Committee.
Rokeberg agrees with Botelho that the state needs a new capitol. Botelho wants a new capitol in Juneau funded through a long-term lease with the state.
Rokeberg plans to use his position on the committee to advance his legislation, House Bill 60, which calls for a new legislative hall. The bill does not dictate where the hall would be located in the state, because Rokeberg wants Alaska cities to compete for the facility, he said.
Rokeberg's second strategy is to put a capital-move initiative on a ballot and let state residents decide, he said.
"It's a matter of fairness and equity," he said.
Rokeberg, who has witnessed the battle over capital relocation for years, said the Legislature will not authorize a long-term lease for a new capitol. He proposes that the municipality in which the capital is located should build a capitol and lease it to the state for $1 a year. The Legislature would fund the operation and maintenance costs, under Rokeberg's plan.
Botelho, who campaigned for mayor on the platform of a new capitol in Juneau, appointed Rokeberg and three other legislators, based on recommendations from legislative leadership, he said.
"I can't expect everyone to see eye to eye," Botelho said. "We want to have true legislative input."
Countering Rokeberg will be Phil Smith of Juneau, who gathered signatures for the FRANK initiative that passed in 1978. FRANK - Frustrated Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge - was an initiative that required the capital to stay in Juneau until Alaskans approved the costs to move it.
The next capital-move attempt came in 1982, when Smith was running for a state Senate seat in Anchorage. Smith said he lost because many constituents in his district wanted to move the capital to Willow.
"I have no regrets, but I did pay a price to be true to the cause," he said.
Smith, who works for the National Marine Fisheries Service, shares Botelho's goals for a new capitol. He is one of seven members of the public appointed to the committee.
"We can build a facility in the state that we can be proud of," Smith said.
Sen. Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, also is on Botelho's committee. He favors the mayor's plan to have a new capitol in Juneau but is not prepared to discuss funding, he said. Stevens "admires" the current building but acknowledged it's an aging facility with limited space.
The first meeting of the committee is 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday in the Juneau Assembly chambers.
Botelho expects early discussions to include overall goals, a timetable, space needs, and a general conception of the capitol. Location of the building could come into play early, he said. Finances are expected in later discussions, the mayor said.
Other committee members include: state Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat; Rep. David Guttenberg, a Fairbanks Democrat; Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency; Juneau Assembly members Jeannie Johnson and Merrill Sanford; and Juneau Planning Commissioner Marshal Kendziorek.
Members of the public on the committee, all from Juneau, are: Win Gruening, president of the Alaska Committee, a group formed to keep the capital in Juneau; Sharon Kelly, president of the Alaska State Employees Federal Credit Union; Kevin Ritchie, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, an organization that supports cities' interests; city architect Sarah Lewis; private business consultant Carlton Smith; and realtor John Williams.
Tara Sidor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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