Simpson e-mail ignites capital move squabble

GOP official's message seen by some as an attempt to derail building new capitol

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

Paulette Simpson, vice chairwoman of the state Republican Party and a board member of the Juneau group that has fought attempted capital moves, is under fire for what critics say is an attempt to instigate a capital-move debate.

Simpson, of Juneau, e-mailed Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich last fall with what some say was an attempt to derail mayoral candidate Bruce Botelho's plans to push for construction of a new capitol.

In an e-mail dated Sept. 30, Simpson asked Ruedrich to contact the Voice of the Times, a conservative opinion page printed in the Anchorage Daily News, and "beg them to put in a blurb about Botelho's plan for a new Capitol."

The Voice of the Times historically has supported moving the capital from Juneau to Anchorage or Wasilla.

Simpson also told Ruedrich in an e-mail in August: "If the former Juneau mayor thinks the Capitol is 'inadequate,' then maybe the state should be exploring a way to move it, right? We certainly don't have money to spend on a new one."

Simpson said she has been involved with the Alaska Committee, an organization committed to preventing capital move initiatives, since 1994.

Kim Metcalfe, Southeast region vice chairman for the state Democratic Party, said it's appalling "if she's truly advocating to influence the Voice of the Times."

"It's bad if she's advocating moving the capital," she said. "I can't believe she's doing that."

Simpson said in an interview Thursday she was "outraged" by Botelho's plans for a new capitol in Juneau, "especially after we spent $1.5 million to convince the people of the state to keep the Capitol here," referring to the money spent by the city to prevent a capital-move attempt in 2002.

Simpson said the e-mail to Ruedrich about moving the capital was "satirical."

"That was pure satire," she said. "We certainly don't have the money to move it."

Botelho declined comment on the e-mails, and Ruedrich could not be reached for comment.

Paul Jenkins, a writer for the Voice of the Times, said he did not remember receiving a call from Ruedrich between that date and the November election.

"We get tons of stuff like that and we don't deal with 80 percent of it," Jenkins said.

The e-mail surfaced as part of an investigation of alleged ethics violations by Ruedrich while he served as GOP chairman and as a commissioner for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. He stepped down from the commission in November.

Some are criticizing the e-mail and other communications to Ruedrich concerning moving the capital, but Simpson said she is a "staunch supporter" of keeping it in Juneau.

When asked what she hoped to achieve through the e-mail she said: "I don't remember. I don't even know how to say this. It's nonpartisan."

Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, said he had not seen the e-mail or talked to Simpson about it.

A lot of people worried about Botelho's proposal to build a new capitol, Gruening said.

"There were a lot of people that had concerns other than her," he said.

Gruening said he thinks the e-mails have been taken out of context, and said: "There is probably no stronger supporter of Juneau and keeping the capital in Juneau than her."

But Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said the Alaska Committee should discuss the e-mails to try to understand Simpson's motives.

"The Alaska Committee has served the community so well for so long it seems to me that they would be very interested in having a vigorous discussion about what happened and why it happened, whether it happened to establish partisan advantage or whether it happened because of thoughtless statements," he said.

He said political campaigns focus too much on political dominance.

Elton said the issue of the capital move should not be played in electoral politics in Juneau.

"We ought not ever put at risk our commitment to being the best capital city that we can be, and unfortunately it seems to me that whatever the motive may have been that the capital card was played," he said. "Maybe it was inadvertently. If so it was thoughtless. If it was on purpose, it was dangerous."

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, she doesn't know Simpson's motives or intent but the community works hard to keep the capital in Juneau.

"The documents are of great concern," she said. "You have a member of the Alaska Committee commenting in what in the document appears to be a very negative way, and that's a concern."

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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