Murkowski won't change his mind

Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2004

Perhaps weighing heaviest on the minds of Alaska Marine Highway System employees this week is whether Gov. Frank Murkowski will revisit his decision to move their offices from Juneau to Ketchikan this summer.

Buoying their hopes, I suspect, are questions about whether the move will actually save the state money in the long run, and how much work (and at what cost) will have to be done to the former Ketchikan Pulp Co. building that will become home to the ferry system offices.

Well, I don't think Murkowski will rethink his decision and here's why:

The governor decided on the move earlier this month and he did so in the absence of any public process. In the aftermath, his office has said no public process was necessary and that public debate and/or input on the issue wasn't going to change his mind. The bottom line, as Murkowski sees it, is that relocating the ferry system offices will save the state money and will provide Ketchikan with 40-plus badly needed jobs.

And, even in the face of criticism over making his decision in the manner he did, Murkowski has yet to explain his actions. At the minimum, I think, the governor should have done two things in the moment of choice: tell the ferry system employees face-to-face, and tell the community of Juneau that the decision was his to make and is one for which he accepts responsibility. How hard could that be for a governor who talks of making the tough calls he has to make for the good of the state?

Murkowski also, I think, is determined to throw Ketchikan a sizable economic bone. No one disputes that Ketchikan is in dire need of whatever economic development it can muster. Seven years after the pulp company, the town's largest employer, closed and wiped out 3,000 jobs, the community's economy has been decimated.

Murkowski, who hails from Ketchikan, naturally has a desire to help the town where his roots are. Nothing wrong in saying so, governor.

I also think Murkowski, in his mind, can justify his decision by assuring Juneau of his support for a road to Haines or Skagway, the opening of the Kensington gold mine later this year and construction of a new capitol in downtown Juneau. And with his pledge of support for those important issues here, he doesn't have to reconsider relocating the marine highway system offices.

Within the past week or so it has occurred to me that, for many of us, it's not so much the decisions this governor makes that chafe us so much as it is the manner in which he executes them. The appearance Murkowski creates is that he's going to do what he's going to do, torpedoes be damned. We're getting used to it.

I don't look for our governor to explain or justify his motives, and because of that I wonder how much we have to worry about the next big decision this one-term governor will make.

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