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March 5, 2002 The Anchorage Daily News says legislative relocation is a distraction

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2002

Think we'd get better government if we moved the Legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough?

Don't bank on it.

The initiative to require a move to Mat-Su is a distraction from more important issues facing the Legislature this session and election season: the state's budget shortfall and a constitutional amendment for a rural subsistence priority.

It's also one of those compromises that try to cover a bad idea with a half-solution. The political problem is that although moving the capital to Anchorage might make sense, many Alaskans outside the state's biggest city already resent the concentration of population and power here. Mat-Su is a compromise between Anchorage and Fairbanks, still on the railbelt and road system and hence more accessible to the majority of Alaskans than Juneau.

Yes, it is. But not enough more accessible to be worth the trouble. If access is the goal, then moving the Legislature to Anchorage is easily the best choice, because Anchorage is the transportation and services hub of the state. State Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, has introduced a bill to move the Legislature into the Atwood Building in downtown Anchorage. Even for Alaskans in the farthest reaches of the state, that's a better option.

Politically, however, it's unlikely, given the not-to-Anchorage animus out there. A capital move fired popular passions through the 1970s and early 1980s after Alaskans voted to move the capital to Willow. Visions of a new capital in the woods and on the road system excited imagination, but the fire went out when we began to tote the bill -- and voted against paying it. The current initiative is not so grandiose, but there would be a price.

Sen. Rick Halford probably has a good sense of the popular reaction to a move of any branch of government -- put them somewhere ''farther away, darker and colder.'' Sen. Halford's words echo those of former territorial Gov. Mike Stepovich, who in the early 1980s said: ''Send 'em out to Dutch Harbor. They'll get the people's business done in 90 days.''

If we're going bring lawmakers closer to the bulk of the people, bring them to Anchorage. But let's not make it an issue now. More important matters are at stake, and their resolution depends on what lawmakers decide, not where they do the deciding.

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