A group pushing a measure to move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough would prevail if the question were put to voters today, according to results of a recent poll cited by Juneau Mayor Sally Smith.
Smith said a poll commissioned by the anti-move group Alaska Committee showed most people surveyed supported a citizens' initiative to move sessions from Juneau to the Mat-Su area, about 40 miles northeast of Anchorage. The measure could appear on the 2002 statewide ballot.
"It indicates we're not on the winning side of it right now - that there's a lot of public awareness that needs to take place," said Smith, a member of the committee. "At least we're more aware of what it looks like out there."
Smith referred most questions to committee chairman Win Gruening, who declined to release substantive information about the poll results.
Gruening confirmed the statewide telephone survey was done in May by Cromer and Associates and noted the committee received the results earlier this month. Gruening said the survey held good news and bad news for Juneau but declined to elaborate, saying the committee will use the results in its strategy to fight the measure.
"Our strategy is largely dependent on the information we get out of a poll," Gruening said. "I'm not sure we want to reveal at this point what the information is, whether it's good or bad."
Polls done many months before an election do not always portend the outcome of a vote, he said. Alaskans rejected a ballot measure in 1994 to move the capital to Wasilla, even though a poll 10 months earlier indicated the initiative would pass, Gruening said.
"It did show people were in favor of the capital move, and in fact they did vote it down," he said.
Juneau's mayor said the poll results held a couple "small surprises," particularly in the Mat-Su Borough.
"I thought we would probably be doing worse in Mat Su than we are. It appears not everybody in Mat-Su wants the capital," said Smith, who has argued the capital eventually would follow if legislative sessions moved out of town.
The Mat-Su Borough Assembly recently debated the effect of the measure on Juneau while considering a resolution in support of the initiative.
Assembly member Sara Jansen initially opposed the resolution, saying she could not in good conscience vote to steal jobs from another Alaska community, according to an article in the Frontiersman newspaper.
"Let's not kid ourselves," Jansen was quoted as saying in the article. "The end result is to move the capital. On a statewide basis, why would you want to decimate one area's economy?"
However, Mat-Su Assembly member Kelly Lankford-Ladere insisted the measure would move only the session, not the capital itself, the paper reported. Lankford-Ladere said Juneau's economy was diverse enough to stand on its own without the hundreds of legislators and legislative staffers who flock to the capital city every January.
"I don't believe it's such a huge economic disaster for the city of Juneau - they have a thriving tourism industry and they have, in the past, had much timber processing," Lankford-Ladere said.
Jansen later changed her stance, saying the initiative could boost her region's economy and that she needed to vote in the best interests of her constituents. The Assembly unanimously approved the resolution.
Gruening called the vote disappointing.
"If the Legislature were to move, obviously it's going to damage Juneau's economy severely, and I think the quality of your representation in the Legislature depends on who you elect, not where they're located," he said.
Although sponsors of the initiative petition withdrew it last month to fix technical problems with the language, the group resubmitted the petition to the lieutenant governor, who certified it on July 23.
Now supporters must collect 28,783 signatures to get the question on the 2002 ballot. Sponsors of the initiative include Mark Chryson, a Mat-Su Borough resident and chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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