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Outside Editorial: Don't muzzle public testimony

Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2004

In the recent episode between borough Mayor Jim Whitaker of Fairbanks and Sen. Scott Ogan of Palmer, two oft-opinionated politicians, it seems the mayor has right on his side. Sen. Ogan, chairman of the Senate Resources Committee, requested that the mayor - a former legislator himself - submit testimony on the gas line in advance of a hearing.

The reason? Sen. Ogan apparently doesn't like the mayor's style. He said he worried that the mayor would deviate from the topic and would become a bit emotional. So what? Mayor Whitaker is indeed a passionate individual and does become animated on occasion. And that's a problem? Alaska could use more legislators who are not afraid to speak their mind and who exhibit a bit of passion while in Juneau.

The good senator, the subject of a recall effort by the people of Palmer, was worried about the imposing Fairbanks mayor because another person's testimony at a previous gas line hearing had been critical of the oil companies that hold the North Slope gas. Sen. Ogan, according to the mayor, didn't want that to happen again. Again, so what? Officials with the owner companies have thick-enough skins to withstand criticism at a hearing of a little ol' legislative committee.

Sen. Ogan also complained that the subject matter of the mayor's testimony had been given in an earlier hearing. Again, so what? Is the representative suggesting that the Resources Committee can't take a few extra minutes - heck, even an hour or more - to hear from the mayor of the second most-populous area of the state on a project expected to cost untold billions?

In making public policy, repetition of a point is an essential practice in convincing legislators that something is important. The practice can be seen in Fairbanks in just about any hot topic that the City Council or Borough Assembly might be considering. Time after time, people step forward to make their point, even if it's the same as that of the person preceding them.

And those people, even the most mean-spirited among them, aren't turned away by someone on the council or assembly who might be offended by that person's style or demeanor.

While Mayor Whitaker and Sen. Ogan say they consider the matter closed, it's worth remembering that legislative committees are doing the people's work and that people - or, in this case, the mayor elected to represent their interests - have a right to speak on the subject at hand. No questions asked.



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