Pro-movers turn to court for support

Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2002

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

Without big newspaper endorsements or backing from a broad coalition of politicians or the business community, Alaskans for Efficient Government, the group pushing the legislative-move initiative, has turned to the courts for an edge in the battle for where to house the Legislature.

Even if voters decide in November to reject Ballot Measure 2, the group will continue to pursue the move initiative in court, said Alaskans for Efficient Government member Karen Bretz.

Within the last year the group has filed separate lawsuits against Gov. Tony Knowles and Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

In the suit filed against Knowles in Anchorage Superior Court last spring, Alaskans for Efficient Government said the governor should have appointed the FRANK Commission to study the cost of the move prior to the Nov. 5 general election vote. FRANK stands for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge.

A successful 1994 ballot initiative said Alaskans must know and approve the costs of a move as determined by a commission appointed by the governor.

Ken Jacobus, an attorney for Alaskans for Efficient Government, said Knowles should have appointed the FRANK Commission in February, when the initiative was certified.

Ballot Measure 2, however, would repeal the 1994 FRANK Initiative.

"They're suing the governor to reinstate something they're trying to repeal," Win Gruening, chairman of the anti-move Alaska Committee, told the Empire last June. "They know it's absolutely impossible to form a commission and get a bond issue on the ballot in November."

In late July, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Morgan Christen of a move as determined by a commission appointed by the governor.

Ken Jacobus, an attorney for Alaskans for Efficient Government, said Knowles should have appointed the FRANK Commission in February, when the initiative was certified.

Ballot Measure 2, however, would repeal the 1994 FRANK initiative.

"They're suing the governor to reinstate something they're trying to repeal," Win Gruening, chairman of the anti-move Alaska Committee, told the Empire last June. "They know it's absolutely impossible to form a commission and get a bond issue on the ballot in November."

In late July,Anchorage Superior Court Judge Morgan Christen ruled that Knowles correctly asserted that certification of an initiative does not authorize a study of the cost. The group appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court in August, but, Jacobus said, the court will not decide before the general election in November.

If the court rules in favor of Alaskans for Efficient Government, Jacobus said, the measure could be back in two years under another vote after the governor appoints the commission.

In August, Alaskans for Efficient Government sued Ulmer, calling the language on November's ballot biased and misleading.

After losing in Superior Court, Alaskans for Efficient Government appealed to the state Supreme Court and won. In August the court required slight changes in the wording of Ballot Measure 2.

During the 42-year history of capital-move battles since statehood, pro-move groups have seen a decline in support, according to John Hartle, a 30-year veteran with the Alaska Committee.

Hartle recalled the late '70s and early '80s, when the majority of the Legislature supported moving the capital, and the state's top newspaper, the Anchorage Daily Times, ran front-page editorials by publisher Robert Atwood in support of the move.

Atwood "used to brag that he created the issue," Hartle said.

During that period Atwood kept an eagle-eye watch on Anchorage lawmakers, Hartle said.

The Times "would mercilessly take on any legislator that even doubted the move," he said. "If any legislator from Anchorage stepped one inch out of line, it would be on the front page of the Times."

As early as 1952 Atwood wrote: "It is high time to give serious thought toward liberating the capital by moving it elsewhere. But please! Not to Anchorage. This fair city is relatively free of the smallness of partisan politics and the personal hatreds that go with it. The only time Anchorage is burdened with this type of demagoguery is when somebody from Juneau visits here."

The Anchorage Times ceased publication in 1992, and pro-move support has waned since.

Newspapers in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Nome, Ketchikan, Kenai, Bristol Bay and Juneau oppose the move.

The state's two major political parties also have supported keeping the Legislature in Juneau.

Other political opponents of the initiative include the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the Southeast Conference, the Southeast Conference of Mayors and the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Jamie Parsons, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and an Alaska Committee member, said getting support from the Democratic and Republican parties is a "monumental" development in the history of move-initiative battles.

Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, said voters should oppose the initiative because it is not fiscally sound.

Unlike in the 1994 capital-move effort, Alaskans for Efficient Government lacks any kind of public relations campaign to get a pro-move message to voters.

The Alaska Committee anticipates spending about $1.1 million on a statewide campaign including television, radio and newspaper ads. Most of the money for the campaign has been donated from the city of Juneau. The Fairbanks-based FRANK Committee has raised about $312,000 to fight the initiative's attempt at removing citizens' right to know the move's cost.

Christopher Clark, campaign director for the Alaska Committee, said move advocates have been running a word-of-mouth campaign, making appearances on radio stations in Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, and writing letters to the editor of newspapers throughout the state.

Last week, Alaskans for Efficient Government informed the Alaska Public Offices Commission that it was no longer campaigning for Ballot Measure 2 but instead was focusing its efforts on petitioning for other statewide ballot initiatives.



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