Now that the November general elections have concluded, Juneau's electorate and community leaders are breathing a collective sigh of relief that another attempt to move the capital has been foiled. We are all wondering if this time the issue has been put to bed for keeps. Privately, we sense that this is just another round in a seemingly endless contest to wrest the seat of government from Juneau. The truth is this issue never will be resolved if we continue to react defensively toward each and every move proposal.
To think we can stave off the move by building a road into our community borders on the absurd. Can you imagine making a two and a half day drive to Juneau in January, spending a few days with a legislator and then making the trip home? Few Interior residents have the time, money and energy for such a trip. Then there is the related problem of road maintenance. There are not enough funds or personnel to maintain the roads we have now. Maintaining a highway that skirts the Chilkat Mountains will cost a small fortune. That's money we don't have.
The truth is that keeping the capital in Juneau relates more to demographics than access. The Railbelt contains two-thirds of the state's population and the fastest growing region in Alaska is Southcentral. Putting the Legislature where most Alaskans live makes sense to tens of thousands of our citizens. Concerned leaders in Juneau can take advantage of this argument by putting forth a thoughtful and progressive idea of their own. Beginning in 2004, rotate legislative sessions on alternate years between Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks. This is a "big gulp" strategy because it requires our political leaders to swallow hard and overcome the fear that rotating the legislative sessions means the capital is up for grabs. The capital stays in Juneau because it is a largely bureaucratic function, while sharing the legislative process with the majority of the state's population is the right thing to do. This approach will be awkward at first, but its implementation will take the steam out of the perception that legislative action in far-off Juneau is government out of sight and mind.
If our political leaders have the courage to move aggressively with this proposal, it will represent the first real step in protecting Juneau as the capital. Continued defensive posturing will result in the inevitable: Ultimately, Juneau will lose both the capital and the Legislature because of our state's geography and demographics.
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