In the public interest?

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

The following editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News on May 11:

Just how weird is this?

At the midnight hour, after the 22nd Alaska Legislature had adjourned its 2001 session Tuesday night, Gov. Tony Knowles and the Legislative Republican Majority - chief antagonists in the closing rush - each held press conferences to spin the results.

The governor was announcing news of his call for a special session to start May 21. The majority was telling its side of the story. Each, surely, owed the public some explanation for the breakdowns forcing a special session. Each, surely, wanted to claim credit for the accomplishments of the session.

Some reporters headed for the governor's conference room on the third floor; others chose the majority's press conference in the Speaker's chambers on the second floor; a few stayed on the phones to update their stories on deadline.

Now here's the weird part:

Reporters who showed up at the Speaker's chambers after the beginning of the majority press conference were locked out. One found a way in the back door, only to be physically pushed out again. So the crowning event of the legislative session was that the press - and by extension the public - was excluded from a press conference called to inform the press.

The ostensible reason for the exclusion was that coming in late and setting up cameras and tape recorders would be disruptive. The real reason was that the press and public were being dragged into the mean partisanship that gets in the way all too often in Juneau.

The governor broke protocol by calling a press conference at the same time as the majority, though he had reasons: There was important news to announce and he was leaving town early the next day. Somebody running the majority's press conference retaliated with a hissy-fit against those who dared go listen to the governor announce the news of a special session or who just happened to be busy on deadline. Just how petty is that?

It should be noted that the governor has done the same thing on occasion - barring intrusions after a press conference has begun. Nobody's clean in this game.

It also should be noted that the hour was late, tempers were frayed, and exhaustion likely diminished the judgment of all concerned. The hothouse climate in the Capitol sometimes makes people go over the top without doing any real harm in the long run. That's surely true in this case.

But it raises again the sore and serious matter of excessive partisanship that keeps getting in the way of progress. These folks are elected to do the public's business with courtesy and professionalism. Is this how they show it?

Not likely. How all this serves the public interest is beyond us. It just makes us wince.

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