This past week, my friend Jay Ramras came to Juneau. Jay is the Republican Representative of House District 10, which encompasses the eastern part of Fairbanks and the Fort Wainwright Military Reservation.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll state for the record that I'm the co-chairman of the Capital City Republicans, although that is by no means the basis for my friendship with Jay. Jay is, like me, a lifelong Alaskan, born and raised in the Golden Heart City.
I first met Jay when he came to Juneau in 2005 as a freshman legislator. At the time, l was serving as the legislative liaison for the Department of Environmental Conservation. This job involved spending a great deal of time roaming the halls of the Capitol, trying to persuade legislators to do certain things that would benefit DEC.
Legislative liaisons learn pretty quickly which legislators are quick on the uptake, those who get how the process works and master the procedure and substance of the legislative process. Ramras impressed me with his outgoing personality and his intellectual acumen.
I've moved from state government to the private sector, but remain friends with Jay and look forward to seeing him every year when he comes to Juneau for the legislative session. I make a point of visiting him whenever my travels take me to Fairbanks. He's generously donated housing at his hotel both times I've taken the Perseverance production of The SantaLand Diaries up to the Fairbanks Drama Association's Riverfront Theatre.
I was in Ketchikan last month when I got a text message early in the morning that Jay was announcing his candidacy for lieutenant governor, a great way to start the day. Jay is admirably well-qualified for the position but I admit I was a little surprised, because Jay could easily stay where he is in the House, doing a great job representing his constituents. He could likely either wait for the Senate District 'E' seat to open up, or even run successfully against the incumbent. But instead he has chosen to pursue statewide office, an ambitious but realistic goal.
Jay is an outspoken politician who engaged in heated exchanges with our former governor while she was in office. I applaud his willingness to speak out on two issues of great important to all of Southeast Alaska, particularly to Juneau.
The first of these is the critical importance of ensuring that Juneau remains the seat of state government, in name as well as in practice. When Jay was here this past week, he stated publicly his understanding of the importance of our being the capital city because of his experiences in Fairbanks. When Fairbanks was facing the loss of Eielson Air Force Base during the last round of military installation closures under the scrutiny of the Base Realignment & Closure Commission, Jay was active in mobilizing the people of his community to fight what would be a catastrophic loss to the local economy.
He embraces that if the capital were to be moved to some other Alaska community, the effect on Juneau, indeed on all of Southeast, would be mind-blowingly devastating. Thus, his commitment to ensuring Juneau remains the capital, with cabinet members living here, and state government being run from here.
Jay also strongly supports the Lynn Canal Highway, or as he likes to call it, the road to Fairbanks. He understands that the symbolic importance of road access, coupled with the practical and economic benefits of the Juneau Access Project, militate in favor of building this route to connect Juneau to the North American road system.
He is pragmatic enough to know that it will have to be done incrementally, and thus wants to see work done as soon as possible to extend the road to Berners Bay, music to my ears.
Some have questioned Jay's support for shortening legislative sessions to 90 days, effected by an initiative that Jay helped start and supported strongly. I voted against this measure, and I think the shortened sessions have been an unqualified failure. That stated, I don't hold Jay's support for short sessions against him, because he had good intentions in supporting the concept. To his credit, Jay has acknowledged that most of his fellow legislators think 90-day sessions don't work and expect to change the status quo. Jay is reasonable enough to admit that if something was tried but didn't work, it makes sense to make changes.
If you haven't met Jay Ramras, I hope you'll have the chance to in the coming year. He is likely to be selected by the voters as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor next August, because he's the best man for the job.