Empire editorial: Knapp for mayor

Posted: Sunday, October 05, 2003

Juneau is guaranteed to have a strong leader sitting in the mayor's seat regardless of who is chosen Tuesday. Dick Knapp and Bruce Botelho are well matched in terms of drive, experience, integrity and ties to the community. Both have had long, distinguished careers.

The two candidates hale from different political camps but neither is regarded as a party extremist and each lays claim to allegiances across party lines. Throughout the campaign, Botelho and Knapp often have agreed on issues, and when they differ they have done so in a considerate, respectful, statesmanlike way.

Being mayor of Alaska's capital city is a special honor, but with the honor each new mayor also inherits a demon - the threat that another effort to move the capital will raise its ugly head on his or her watch.

When the specter of another capital-move fight grips the community, energy shifts from community building to community defense, and Juneau's future takes a hit.

Last fall, Juneau once again mounted a well-organized, expensive campaign that resulted in the decisive defeat of the move initiative. The lopsided victory was aided in no small part by weak, modestly funded opposition.

Following the election, the Alaska Committee's independent pollster conducted a statewide survey, the results of which formed the basis of a plan of action that was presented to the Juneau Assembly last winter.

The committee's report ominously cautioned, "The danger of a new capital-move initiative is high."

The report recommended the deployment of two key strategies - improved access and better accommodation - to reduce the chances of future capital-move initiatives.

The distinction between the two candidates is clearly drawn on examination of their individual beliefs on access and accommodation. Next Tuesday, voters will place the fate of their community in the hands of the person they believe will be the best guardian of Juneau's status as the capital.

Most of the other attendant mayoral challenges and promises debated this fall are secondary and will be generally well served no matter which candidate is elected.

The monumentally important issue of access will be determined following completion of the supplemental Juneau Access Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

Knapp knows transportation. He is a former Alaska commissioner of Transportation and has spent a good deal of his career on the sea. He is absolute in his support of a hard-surface link making two-way access between the state capital and the rest of the state a reality. He firmly believes that Juneau's city leaders should be fostering a welcoming image to all people of Alaska, inviting them to come and visit their capital, instead of protecting it as a private preserve.

Knapp believes that combination of road and a ferry link to Haines will tie the communities of the Lynn Canal closer together and make them more interdependent. Knapp believes in the EIS process and that it will render results that will enable the construction of a road with minimal impact on the environment.

Botelho is not a road booster. He admits that he thinks the road is going to be built, but he fears that it will detract from the viability of the ferry system. He also has concerns about the environmental impact of the road, in effect showing a lack of faith in the EIS process even though the administration he formerly worked for invested millions of dollars in the study.

On accommodation, the two candidates agree that improvements to Capitol facilities are needed and a new government center on Telephone Hill would help fortify Juneau's permanence as the capital. However, the candidates are at polar opposites on the level of risk to which they would expose the community.

Botelho is campaigning on a plan that would have the city fund the construction of a Capitol with the debt service covered by payments from a long-term lease with the state. The concept for the facility has been only roughly sketched out, but cost estimates run upwards of $80 million, with the lease in the range of $2 million to $3 million per year.

Botelho's plan is ill-timed and fraught with pitfalls. Gov. Frank Murkowski may be willing to commit to a long-term lease, but the Legislature's approval still would be required. All payments on state leases are subject to appropriation and cancellation by the state. The state recently backed out of a lease involving the Department of Fish and Game. As a former attorney general, Botelho should be fully aware that the state couldn't be bound by an ironclad lease.

Most people agree that a new facility would add insurance against future move efforts, but Alaska's initiative process could still place another Capitol-move measure in front of voters. If the measure were to pass, Juneau would be left holding an enormous debt for the smaller number of taxpayers who remain to pay.

One of the greatest fears associated with the Juneau-funded construct-and-lease concept is that if it takes root, the opportunity would be opened for the Legislature to study other future locations for a new Capitol, once again putting the Capitol-move issue on the front burner.

In 1993 Juneau voters roundly defeated a measure to fund a new Capitol, because the community wasn't given enough time to participate in the discussion and the concept had too many loose ends. Botelho's plan falls into the same trap. The idea is politically unpalatable at this time and loaded with risks that Juneau simply cannot afford to take.

Knapp will work to get the Kensington mine online. Botelho has reservations about the new mine and supported the overly restrictive mining ordinance that the Assembly recently corrected.

Voters have a clear choice. Knapp advocates a results-oriented approach to government and a welcome mat at Juneau's doorstep. Botelho has proven that he can get results, but his methods will be slower and more process-oriented. He doesn't favor improved road access to the capital, which, as the Alaska Committee's report confirmed, is important enough to Alaskans that it would negate many pro-move votes.

There is no shortage of process in city government. It's time for results.

Dick Knapp is the best choice to produce results and protect Juneau's future.

Don Smith

dssmith@juneauempire.com

586-1428



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