Undecided: New kid on the block

Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Almost three months after moving to Juneau from balmy Georgia, I'm feeling a bit remiss that I've not gotten as ensconced in the community as I'd like to be at this point.

These first few months have been consumed mostly by budget work, getting to know the staff here at the Empire and locating a home. The budget is now done, the staff and I know each other fairly well and the home, which is under construction, should be ready to occupy within the next three weeks.

That said, it's time for me to get to know the collective face of this community, a process I've barely begun in earnest. As I've met some members of the local business community, a few elected officials (local and state), volunteers and representatives of various community groups, it's clear that most of them want to know where I stand politically and with respect to the most pressing issues facing Juneau and Southeast.

Some whom I've met - and with whom I've met - have danced around the "so-just-where-do-you-stand" question, while others have been much more straightforward. No one's been so pointed as to ask, "So, just whose side are you on, anyway?" but a couple of folks have let me know where they think I need to stand. They've been kind enough to give one of the new guys in town a heads-up or two.

So, you've asked, how do I see Juneau, and where do I weigh in on the issues that are most important to us? Am I pro-growth and pro-development? Am I a "roadie?" A miner? For or against tourism? In favor of oil, gas, timber and the fishing industries, or am I a "greenie?" Republican or Democrat? And, ultimately, am I for or against?

Well, that's a lot of ground to cover in such a short time in the state's capital city, one that is so culturally, geographically and politically diverse and one whose future hinges on issues not only of local importance, but of state and national significance as well.

The people who have been forthright enough to bend my ear have told me this: People do want to know where I stand not only in my role as publisher of the Juneau Empire, but as a resident of this community. They want to know that I intend to do what is right and best for Juneau and that the newspaper will do the same. Taking a stand on issues of relevance is something I - and this newspaper - must do, provided those stands represent what is best for Juneau. A middle-of-the-road approach won't cut it with Juneauites, you say.

The advice I've gotten is both valid and appreciated, but on several occasions I've said to a couple of my advisors, relative to what's right and good for the community, "That's great, but based on whose perspective?" Juneau is, and will be, about much more than a single issue, such as conservation or overall economic growth and development. Those things, after all, mean many different things to different people on different levels.

Call this middle of the road if you will, but I don't think Juneau's future is going to be decided by any one group so much as it will be by broad-based community leadership, a process that could easily take a decade or longer. Political factions and the friction they cause will only further polarize this community and, in the ensuing time, part of our future is lost.

If your expectation is that I'm going to toe the line each week for my political party of choice (I'm neither Dem nor Republican, by the way), the gubernatorial administration, the chamber of commerce, or any one of a myriad of businesses or special interest groups, you'll be disappointed in what I have to say. The goings-on in this community are too diverse and complex, I think, to be that firmly entrenched.

I do, however, plan to speak out on the issues facing this community, as will our newspaper, on an editorial page that will soon be much more local, more lively and more inclusive. We will disagree from time to time, but I (and we) intend to weigh matters as objectively as we can and then offer our opinions.

•Robert Hale is publisher of the Empire.

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