Clearing up misconceptions

Posted: Sunday, March 21, 2004

Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire.

Much of Friday and Saturday I spent trying to clear up some misconceptions relating to Gov. Frank Murkowski's recent decision to relocate the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) offices from Juneau to Ketchikan, and our coverage of - and commentary on - the issue.

On Friday, I spent time with a couple of representatives from the Juneau Chamber of Commerce who expressed concern over what they said is the public perception - and evidently a strong one - that the chamber applauded the governor's decision at a chamber luncheon on March 11.

That perception, they said, is the direct result of a story we ran the day after the governor's appearance at the luncheon, in which we reported that the audience applauded the governor's explanation of his decision of three days earlier. The chamber says it has received numerous calls from people who are dismayed that the chamber would support the exportation of a state agency and some 40 jobs from the capital city.

The fact is that the governor did receive applause following a brief explanation of his decision, and the story we ran reflected that.

That same story also reported that Murkowski received enthusiastic applause as he entered and exited the luncheon, but I think that was far more for his willingness to appear that day than it was a show of support for any of his political positions.

The chamber has neither applauded nor decried the move of the AMHS offices to Ketchikan, and the perception that it has done either is incorrect.

Our March 12 story was also rather clear about those things the governor said he wholeheartedly supports in and for Juneau, including construction of a road to Skagway or Haines, the opening of the Kensington mine later this year, a new capitol in Juneau and construction of an 18-hole golf course on Douglas Island.

In a couple of discussions I've had with Jim Clark, Murkowski's chief of staff, and Dennis Fradley, the governor's director of communications, they've bristled at claims that Murkowski is anti-Juneau and is doing what he can to dismantle the capital city. Such charges, they say, are unfounded, unfair and are being made by people whose perceptions aren't fact-based.

Clark and Fradley, over lunch Saturday, said the move of the AMHS offices out of Juneau was based entirely on economic reasons, and that it doesn't amount to more "capital creep" as suggested by Juneau officials, members of the Legislature and others.

This issue is both emotionally and politically charged and perceptions on both sides are at least somewhat skewed.

The reality, though, is that the decision has been made and the move from Juneau to Ketchikan is going to happen within the next few months.

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