House hopefuls look to protect the capital

Backers of Andrea Doll, Cathy Muñoz say their candidate is the best bet to fend off move efforts

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008

Candidates for Juneau's Mendenhall Valley seat in the Alaska House of Representatives both agree that fighting a capital move will be a major focus of whoever wins the seat.

First-term incumbent Rep. Andrea Doll, a Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Cathy Muñoz for the seat.

Doll battled repeated attempts during the last session to attack Juneau's status as the capital, stopping one in the State Affairs Committee, on which she sits, and preventing any of them from reaching the House floor for a vote.

"Not one of the capital move bills was sponsored by a Democrat," Doll said.

Doll said that's why Juneau needs to keep a Democrat in that seat, to strengthen the Democratic caucus. Democrats, she said, have sided with Juneau on the capital issue, while Republicans, including some in the leadership, have backed a move.

Muñoz said that while Democrats already oppose the move, Juneau needs a Republican in the Legislature so Juneau will have a voice in the closed-door Republican caucus meetings in which policy is set.

Muñoz said she expects Republicans to remain in the majority in the House, and control the appointment of the committee chair positions.

"I would hope to be chair of the State Affairs Committee" if elected, Muñoz said.

When legislators from Juneau and elsewhere in Southeast are in the majority, they are usually given chairmanships or other important positions, she said.

Muñoz also said she has a good relationship with Gov. Sarah Palin, and could use that to prevent a capital move. Members of Juneau's all-Democrat delegation should not have criticized Palin during her run for vice president, she said.

"We need to work with her and not against her," she said. "That's not possible if we're spouting off in the press continually."

Doll has criticized Palin for moving state jobs from Juneau to Anchorage, and more recently for living in Wasilla and working in Anchorage and collecting per diem because her official work station is in Juneau.

Some of Juneau's most knowledgeable state government observers say both are right.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, Juneau's other member of the House, said protecting the capital takes a strong Democratic caucus, and that means having a united front from Juneau.

"In the last decade, it has been Democrats that time and time again have fought for the capital, and the Republicans that time again put in move bills," Kerttula said.

Democrats have been gradually gaining strength in the Alaska Legislature, and until Palin joined the Republican presidential ticket as Sen. John McCain's running mate, Democrats had hoped to pick up more seats this year.

Kerttula said that if Democrats hold a legislative majority they can guarantee that no capital move bill will pass.

Former Juneau Republican legislator Bill Hudson said that's unlikely to happen, and that Juneau is best served by having a Republican in the valley seat.

"Juneau has the best protection if you've got a foot in each camp," he said.

Hudson said he made sure he was in the majority caucus, to make sure he could protect Juneau's interests. That was true even when that meant joining a majority led by Rep. Ben Grussendorf, a Sitka Democrat.

"It protected things that I valued most, which was protecting the capital and making sure the labor trade issue was dealt with honestly," he said.

To join the majority when it is organizing, Hudson said members work out there "must haves" and "must not haves" before the session starts.

Muñoz said she would be willing to join such a coalition if it was necessary to make sure she was where she needed to be to serve Juneau's interests.

Republicans from Juneau tend to be more moderate than those from the Mat-Su Borough, Hudson said, and having one from Juneau in the caucus meetings provides a moderating influence, he said.

"You don't want them going and making decisions entirely on their own," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail

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