Alaska editorial: Move the Legislature closer to the people

Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2007

This editorial appeared in The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman:

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If Gov. Sarah Palin convenes a special session of the Legislature in the fall, we hope she does so in the Anchorage area, as she has suggested doing. And she should consider it a trial run for a full-scale relocation of the Legislature.

State government centers can certainly remain in the pleasant, but geographically isolated, Panhandle city of Juneau. But we think the majority of Alaska residents, who live primarily on the state's road system, should be able to drive to the center of their state government's elected body without taking a ferry or leaving the country.

The crux of this geographically undesirable state capital problem is summed up by an e-mail a Talkeetna businesswoman sent in April. She was worried about losing tourism marketing funds due to the cruise ship tax, and planned to meet with legislators in April over possible solutions.

She e-mailed other Talkeetna business owners, offering to bring their letters and photos with her for the obvious reason - going to see the Legislature is a trial because you have to go all the way to Juneau.

People can't simply drive to a location in central Alaska to lobby legislators on issues important to their lives. Instead, they are relegated to participation by proxy, unless they want to pay the money and spend the time to get to Juneau.

How is a government truly representative of its people - and voters fully-empowered - if the seat of power is only available to those with the disposable income and time to get there?

We've seen evidence lately that inaccessibility may contribute to malfeasance, not to mention indictments.

It's time to give everyone up here a break so no one has to jump on a plane to see top public officials in action - and try to get their attention without waving tons of cash.

If Anchorage hosts a special legislative session this fall, chances are there won't be fog delays and stagnation due to travel-caused lacks of quorum that have marked Juneau sessions. Our road crews are so good here you can drive the main highways whether you're in Tok or Fairbanks or Talkeetna.

It is estimated that in 20 years the Wasilla area may surpass Anchorage in population. The Valley is growing. The state's population is growing. The legislature that governs with our permission isn't listening too well to voter mandates.

The historic nature of the capital's location should not trump today's economic and political realities.

It's time to bring lawmakers closer to where most of them - and their constituents - live. This is no longer a fringe issue to be crushed by special interests or marginalized by traditionalists. Alaska has a black eye due to the shenanigans in Juneau, and only the sunshine that comes from public scrutiny and access will chase away those in the shadows.

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