Holding a legislative session outside of Juneau raises a number of serious concerns and I've been surprised by the muted public reaction around the state.
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While the migration of government jobs and political influence out of Juneau and into Anchorage is certainly not new, having a governor who publicly encourages the trend is a worrisome new development. What's particularly disconcerting is that capital-move supporters are using the current political corruption scandal as a means to justify their own self-interests.
The recent Anchorage session set an extremely bad precedent and is an ominous sign for Southeast Alaska. It's common knowledge that the economic health of the region is heavily dependent on the seat of government remaining in Juneau. I certainly intend to do everything I can to ensure it stays there. But I would hope every Alaska resident appreciates that the state is not better served by a further concentration of wealth and influence in Anchorage. Where the Alaska Legislature goes, so goes the capital.
Proponents of moving the capital point to the "historic" Anchorage session as proof the Legislature doesn't need to meet in the Capitol to be effective. Gov. Sarah Palin was so pleased with the results of the Anchorage session that she initially called for another one to be held somewhere "on the road system" in October.
Let's be honest, the only remarkable thing about the Anchorage gathering was how little it resembled a real legislative session. It faced none of the logistical challenges and difficulties a lengthy session outside of Juneau will surely encounter. The majority of the House's work on the SeniorCare bill was done in hearings held during the three weeks leading up to the official June 26 start. During the one-day session, no new legislation was introduced and no Senate committee hearings where held. In a cost-savings move, legislative staffers doubled as floor pages and provided extra security at the Egan Center. Non-Anchorage legislators worked without the benefit of staff, offices, phones or computers while they were there. While those conditions might be acceptable for a one-day session, they are clearly unworkable for a session of 30 days in duration. Despite these shortcuts, the one-day session cost Alaskans approximately $110,000.
It's ridiculous to suggest that legislators will be less susceptible to the influence of lobbyists while in Anchorage. The vast majority of lobbyist and corporate influence peddlers live in Anchorage. Moving the Legislature improves their access, not the other way around. So while legislators are forced to conduct the public's business without the tools, facilities or professional environment Juneau's Capitol affords, enterprising lobbyists simply move their business off-sight - to one of Anchorage's many hotels, restaurants or bars. Unethical operators will be more than happy to capitalize on this sort of chaos.
Supporters also contend that moving the Legislature out of Juneau will open the political process up to greater public scrutiny. Yes, in theory, meeting close to a larger portion of the population should encourage more folks to observe the proceedings. In reality - despite the novelty and hype - attendance at the session in Anchorage was no-higher than it routinely is in Juneau.
This is unlikely to change no matter where the Legislature chooses to meet. Juneau's geographic isolation is inconvenient, but it certainly doesn't prevent interested Alaskans from participating in the political process. Anyone can testify before a committee by going to their local Legislative Information Office or by calling a toll-free number. Residents can watch the Legislature in action on "Gavel to Gavel," which is available online and reaches 90 percent of the state via cable TV.
Regardless of where the Legislature meets, Alaskans can track the process on the Internet and communicate directly with their legislators.
A strong, diversified statewide economy depends on every community in Alaska - urban and rural - having equal influence on its state government. Say what you will about the isolation of Juneau, but from a statewide prospective, it's equally inaccessible to everyone.
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, is co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
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