Quest to move Legislature to Mat-Su opens old wounds

Juneau leaders gear up for an all-too-familiar fight

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2001

For some longtime residents, the issue of moving legislative sessions out of Juneau is like a recurring bad dream.

The news Wednesday that a Mat-Su group had revived the quest sucked the energy out of John Hartle's voice.

"It's the same old thing that's 40 years old - moving the capital to the Mat-Su Borough, starting with the Legislature," said Hartle, a member of the Alaska Committee who has fought similar efforts more than 20 years.

The chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party confirmed Wednesday that he and two other people will file the required 100 signatures next week and apply for an initiative petition that would call for moving legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The group then would have to collect roughly 29,000 signatures to get the measure on the statewide ballot.

Sponsor Mark Chryson of the AIP said the Capitol is too far away for most Alaskans to sway lawmakers, and as a result, lobbyists have seized control.

"We are trying to go and have the Legislature so we can at least go and take control of the legislative process," said Chryson, who lives in the MatSu Borough, near Anchorage. "Juneau will have the administrative offices, all the executive offices and you can keep Tony (Knowles) down there as long as you want. We're not trying to take the capital."

For Juneau lawmakers, it's the same old argument they've heard many times before.

"This takes us down the trail of Pac-Man politics: It's who's going to gobble up whom," said Democratic Sen. Kim Elton.

"In Alaska we will never find a spot that's easily accessible for everyone," said Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula, who used the nation's capital to bolster her argument. "We don't all go to Washington, D.C., either, but that doesn't mean you hear people saying we should move Congress to Indianapolis."

Hartle said the Alaska Committee, which formed to fight past capital-move efforts, hasn't had a chance to meet on the issue. But the last time a similar measure appeared on the statewide ballot, the group spent more than $1 million in mostly city funds defeating it, he said. That was in 1994 when voters rejected a bid to move the capital to Wasilla in the Mat-Su Borough. The initiative failed with 54 percent voting no.

"We always say we won handily the last three statewide votes," said Hartle, referring to ballot measures in 1994, 1982 and 1978. "If necessary we will do it again."

In 1976, voters approved a measure to make Willow the new capital but later rejected a plan to finance the move. Mat-Su Republican Sen. Lyda Green represents Willow and Wasilla, but she hasn't decided whether to support the measure.

"I'd love to live at home and be able to drive to the Capitol," Green said. "But I think some other questions have to be answered to see that this is doable, affordable and makes good sense."

For one thing, she wants to know what building lawmakers would use. Chryson, the sponsor, said the Mat-Su Borough does not have a legislative hall yet. Asked who would pay for a new Capitol, he referred questions to Uwe Kalenka, the man behind a failed tax-cap initiative on the last statewide ballot. Kalenka declined to comment, saying the group would hold a press conference next week.

Republican Rep. Scott Ogan, who also represents communities in the Mat-Su area, supported the notion of moving sessions, calling it a good thing. Ogan sponsored a measure before lawmakers to move sessions every other year, with the idea municipalities would compete against each other to host the Legislature and offer incentives, including a new Capitol.

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



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