The chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party and two other sponsors of an initiative to move legislative sessions out of Juneau are one step closer to putting the question on the state ballot.
The group on Friday filed an application with the lieutenant governor's office for an initiative petition. If the state approves the application and the group collects about 29,000 signatures, voters will decide whether to move sessions to the Matanuska-Susistna Borough near Anchorage.
Meanwhile, a Juneau group that has fended off similar efforts in the past met last week to discuss the Mat-Su measure.
"It's a long ways off," said Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee. "We've got a year and a half or so before the election of 2002, and I think we need to take our time and see what the best approach would be."
Gruening said the committee probably will bolster its argument to keep legislative sessions here by highlighting recent technological advances. KTOO-TV broadcasts live video of committee hearings and floor sessions, and the committee is partially funding an effort to stream the footage live on the Internet by this year, Gruening said. By 2002, the committee plans to stream live audio of several hearings at once on the Internet and also offer archives of the material. By investing in technology, the group hopes to undermine the argument the Legislature is inaccessible to most Alaskans.
"It's going to make it easier for people to access their legislator," Gruening said. "They don't necessarily need physical access all the time."
But initiative sponsor Mark Chryson said better technology doesn't solve the problem. Alaskans want face-to-face contact with lawmakers to fight the influence of special interests, he said.
"How much technology is it going to take to go and watch each individual lobbyist and each individual legislator? Are we going to place a Web-cam on each person's head and follow them around all day?" said Chryson, the chairman of the AIP.
It's unclear where lawmakers and staff would meet in the Mat-Su Borough, but Chryson pointed to several vacant buildings as possibilities. The Cottonwood Creek Mall in Wasilla is "basically dead," said Chryson, adding perhaps lawmakers could use the space formerly leased by Pay-And-Save and a grocery chain.
"Those are two, large square footage parts of that mall itself that are vacant," he said.
Maybe lawmakers also could use the vacant Wal-Mart building in Wasilla, said Chryson, noting the details would be worked out after voters approved the initiative. If suitable facilities were not available in the Mat-Su, sessions would move from Juneau to Anchorage in 2005, but only until the Mat-Su Borough provided facilities, according to the measure.
Current law requires the state to get voter approval before it spends money to move the capital or Legislature. However, the initiative would delete the reference to the Legislature, meaning the state could fund a session move without voter approval. Chryson defended that part of the initiative, saying the move would cost nothing and ultimately save the state money in travel to Juneau.
Gruening declined to comment on that part of the measure, saying he hadn't seen the language.
Kathy Dye may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.