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Group tries for session move vote

29,000 signatures needed to get measure on the ballot

Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2001

The chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party and two others plan to file for an initiative petition to move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The group already has the 100 signatures required to apply for the petition, and it will file those next week with the state, said sponsor Mark Chryson, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party.

If the state approves the application, the group would have to gather 28,783 signatures to get the question on the state ballot. Chryson said he is pushing the move because most Alaskans do not have reasonable access to their representatives in the Legislature.

"We don't see the back-room deals (lawmakers) are making with the lobbyists. The only way we're going to control our Legislature is to move it," said Chryson.

The measure would move all regular and special sessions from Juneau to the Mat-Su Borough. If "suitable facilities" were not available there, all sessions would move to Anchorage, but only until the Mat-Su Borough provided facilities, according to the measure. If approved by voters, it would take effect in January 2005 or earlier If practicable.

Chryson said the Mat-Su Borough is a good place for the sessions because it's located between Anchorage and Fairbanks - plus it has room to expand and build a legislative hall. Although Chryson lives in the Mat-Su Borough, he said that's not the reason he's pushing the initiative.

"I would have wanted it here even if I didn't live here because you can drive to the Mat-Su Borough," he said.

Robert Monson and James Nelson also are listed on the measure as sponsors and members of the Initiative Committee, a loose-knit group of people from across the state of all political affiliations, Chryson said.

"We've got people from Southeast to people in Barrow," said Chryson, although he did not know the number of members. "It ranges from the southern tip to the northern tip."

Meanwhile, a Fairbanks Republican is hitting the road this weekend with another measure to move sessions out of Juneau. Rep. John Coghill has scheduled a hearing Saturday in Anchorage on a bill to move the annual sessions there. It's the first time in recent memory such a bill has had a hearing outside the capital city.

"The bill sponsors requested that we have that hearing, and I said I'd be willing to do it, so we're going to do it," said Coghill, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, which scheduled the hearing on House Bill 1.

But Coghill will have a lot of elbow room at the table. Only one other committee member will join him there - Anchorage Democrat Rep. Harry Crawford. Four others plan to participate by teleconference, according to aides. Committee member Rep. Joe Hayes declined the trip, calling it "an absolute waste of money."

"We are not doing this type of thing for any other bills," said Hayes, a Fairbanks Democrat. "I will be sitting in Juneau listening either by teleconference or audio conference."

Longtime lawmaker Rep. Bill Hudson has fought the effort for years, and he believes this is the first time a legislative-move bill has traveled outside Juneau for a hearing. However, he still thinks the measure is doomed.

"I don't believe (the hearing) will have any effect on the final outcome. I don't believe the support is there for the bill," said Hudson, a Juneau Republican.

Rep. Joe Green, a sponsor of the bill, has pushed the measure for a decade. The Anchorage Republican said many talented people refuse to run for office because they don't want to live in Juneau four months of every year. Proponents of the move also say the Capitol is crowded and unsafe because it doesn't meet fire codes. Green sees the hearing as a chance for Anchorage residents to prove they really want sessions there by showing up at the meeting.

"It says come on out guys, we're making an effort to see whether you really are interested or you just want to complain about not having it up here," said Green, who said his constituents strongly support the bill.

Juneau civic leaders are hoping people in Anchorage will have better things to do with their time.

"Naturally we're hopeful there will not be a big turnout in Anchorage," said Mayor Sally Smith. "If people don't show up, I think it's indicative of how important an issue it is to particular people in Anchorage."

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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