While the Assembly has made many decisions regarding the Juneau Tourism Plan, a key one is still under consideration by the Human Resources Committee. This decision regards the structure, composition and functioning of the body that will advise the Assembly on tourism policy. For any of us who are interested in how tourism is handled in Juneau, the decision is a critical one. And the decision regarding this group will have implications beyond tourism.
In the last local election in Juneau, only 28.2 percent of our registered voters bothered to go to the polls. This poor turnout, common in many municipalities in Alaska, was especially noteworthy coming after Sept. 11 and the feelings of patriotism generated by the national disaster. Northwestern University has studied the problem of non-voting in America since 1996. A recent report of their study includes some revealing findings and recommendations.
The importance of political participation is not emphasized in ways that reach non-voters except in the weeks leading up to an election, leaving non-voters feeling that participation is valued only as a self-serving commodity to put candidates over the top.
Politicians need to find ways to engage directly with citizens, through debates and other venues that are closer to where Americans live and work.
Politicians need to find ways to let citizens talk to them more directly and to listen and respond to what those citizens have to say.
This report confirms what we all instinctively know. People want real contact with their elected officials on the issues that matter to them. Knowing this, it is apparent that more is at stake right now than the creation of a tourism partnership. In fact, the issue is bigger than tourism. The recommendation of the Human Resources Committee and action by the Assembly have the potential of opening doors for the ordinary citizen by engaging them in the work of government in a meaningful and direct way.
Juneau residents have strong feelings about tourism - about both its benefits and its negative impacts. Creating a collaborative structure that gives citizens and neighborhood groups a voice at the tourism table would be a step in the right direction. The other proposal before the Assembly - to have a JTP made up only of representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, JCVB, JEDC, etc. - would clearly be a step in the wrong direction; a step backward. Please call members of the Assembly and let them know you want Juneau to move forward now, with a new, collaborative process.