Lawmakers fear precedent set by session

Juneau's legislative delegation calls Anchorage meeting a sign of capital creep

Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Juneau's legislative delegation is back in town after the first session ever held outside the capital, and they're not happy about what happened.

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They're pleased with what the special session accomplished, approving an extension of benefits for poor seniors that the Alaska Legislature did not pass during the regular session ending in May.

But they're not happy with where the session was held and why it was held outside Juneau.

"Some legislators, not the majority but some, were gleeful that it was held elsewhere," said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.

Some members of the Legislature, mostly from the Anchorage and the Matanuska and Susitna valleys, have long advocated moving the capital closer to their homes.

Elton said some House Republicans who would like to see the capital moved failed to pass senior assistance during the regular session - and then were rewarded with a special session outside Juneau.

"Some of my colleagues feel like they've made a major milestone, cracked open the door a bit," he said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she detected glee among some of her colleagues as well.

"There was a bit of that going on," she said.

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Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, said at one point she was handed as a joke a home-buyer's guide for the Anchorage area.

Given the loss of state jobs from Juneau in recent years, Doll said she finds the possibilities of special sessions elsewhere troubling.

"I'm seeing real evidence of capital creep," she said.

Kerttula said she, too, heard numerous remarks about how much more convenient the Anchorage meeting place was.

"It was getting rubbed in a bit hard," she said. "I'm proud of not losing it" with some of them, she said.

Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton told the Anchorage Daily News that the session had gone so well that it reinforced her belief that a possible fall special session to address petroleum taxes should be held in Anchorage as well.

That would give more Alaskans access and an opportunity to participate, Stapleton said.

The special session held last week was likely more convenient for centrally located legislators, but fewer citizens were able to see the proceedings than if they'd been held in Juneau. That's because the city-funded "Gavel-to-Gavel" television channel was not available in Anchorage as it would have been in Juneau.

And Elton said he was surprised at how few people actually showed up to watch the historic Anchorage session.

"I guess I was somewhat surprised," he said.

He said he looked back at the public gallery and didn't see the crowd he expected.

"I guess I would have expected there would have been a lot of Alaskans there," he said. "I did know most of the faces, and a lot of them were staff."

"Many of the rest were the usual issue lobbyists who would have been at a Juneau session," he said.

Kerttula agreed.

"I would say I knew most of the people there," she said.

Kerttula grew up in Palmer as daughter of former Sen. President Jay Kerttula. Other than a cousin of hers who came to visit her, Kerttula said she didn't even see many of the Palmer leaders she'd expected.

Holding a session outside Juneau was also an organizational chore, as numerous professional staff from Juneau had to travel to Anchorage for the session.

"I think it went real well, but it doesn't mean there weren't logistical problems, because there were," she said.

The Legislative Affairs Agency saved money by not renting an electronic voting system. Instead they used roll call votes, which take more time.

That actually did have a side benefit, however. Kerttula said legislators were forced to decide for themselves how to vote, rather than watching what leading legislators did and then using that as their cue.

"It really made you own your votes," she said.

For lawmakers from outside Southcentral, the change in location meant that they didn't have offices and local phone numbers where they could be contacted by constituents as every legislator has in Juneau, Elton said.

"In some ways, it kind of locks Alaskans out of the process," he said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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