My turn: Assembly should side with voters on road issue

Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Our country was founded on the principle of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. A democracy gives for the people the power to control government through the election process. On Oct. 10, 2000, at the city's regular general election, an advisory vote was conducted asking the residents of Juneau if they preferred a road or improved ferry service. Improved ferry service won by a small margin (50.3 percent to 49.7 percent).

On Sept. 9, 2002, in a late night maneuver and without public notice or input, Assembly member Ken Koelsch moved "that the Assembly support the completion of the environmental impact statement for the identified preferred alternative for the road into Juneau and the Assembly direct staff to work with the state to affect that direction." The motion was in direct opposition to what the voters of Juneau had decided in the earlier general election. The resolution passed on a 5-4 vote. Of the five members who voted for the resolution three members - Mr. Etheridge, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Johnson - have since been voted out of office. Mr. Koelsch chose not to seek re-election, and Mr. Wanamaker drafted and introduced Resolution 2313 that was tabled by the current Assembly.

I received 130 e-mails and phone calls regarding Resolution 2313. The majority of comments were against the resolution. Likewise, the night Resolution 2313 was introduced, the Assembly Chamber was packed with voters for and against the resolution. Of 33 people who testified, 26 were in opposition, 6 were supportive and one was neutral. The Juneau Empire reported these numbers as "mixed."

In my opinion Resolution 2313 was a divisive political issue unnecessarily brought forward by a minority of people in our community. Irrespective of what the Juneau Assembly says about the road, if it happens the road will be built by the state of Alaska whether Juneau wants it or not.

I personally support the road. I stated during the debate on Resolution 2313, which the Juneau Empire chose not to print, "While I personally support a road out of Juneau, the community in an advisory vote did not support the road; therefore I will not support the resolution, based on what the community has voiced at the polls." Because of my commitment to support the citizens of Juneau, I put my personal wishes aside and upheld the community's vote. Any move other than tabling Resolution 2313 would be a disservice to the community.

Sure, there have been many polls and surveys indicating that if a vote were taken today the outcome would be different and support a road out of Juneau rather than improved ferry service. Until the voters of Juneau state their wishes at the ballot box, the Juneau Assembly has no right to support a resolution in opposition to what the voters have said. If we ran the government on polls and surveys, all elected officials would be out of office as soon as their approval rating dipped below 50 percent, certainly not a democratic process. The election process is the only official means of changing the wishes of the electorate.

I take my job as an Assembly member very seriously and will not bend to political pressure to go against the vote of the citizens of Juneau, even if I personally disagree with the majority.

It is time for the Assembly to end this debate, to either stand by the vote of the people or put the issue back before the voters.

• Stan Ridgeway is a member of the Juneau Assembly.

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