Aug. 26, 2001 The Peninsula Clarion on alternatives to moving legislative sessions

Posted: Tuesday, September 04, 2001

Supporters of moving the legislative sessions from Juneau to the Matanuska-Susistna Borough are misguided in their efforts.

There's no doubt there are lots of Alaskans frustrated with state government. They feel disenfranchised. Too many times it seems as if government speaks one language and the people speak another. People are naive, however, if they believe moving the legislative session will cure that frustration. It won't.

If ''fixing'' state government were as simple as moving the legislative sessions to somewhere on Alaska's road system, it would have been done a long time ago. Heck, we would even support it.

But it's not that simple. What ails state government really ails ''the people.'' Government is only as responsive as the people it serves are involved. And involvement constitutes a lot more than whining about how unresponsive and how stupid government is.

Physical proximity to more Alaskans potentially could be a placebo for the ills of government for awhile, but after the newness wore off it would still be the lobbyists peddling the most influence. Moving the legislative sessions would not result in lasting, better government.

In fact, it would create its own problems in terms of costs and efficiency.

We've said it before, but it bears repeating: Good government has nothing to do with where the Legislature meets or where the capital is located. Good government has everything to do with electing accessible and responsible people to office. It also has everything to do with the public participating in government at the most basic level: voting.

Supporters of moving the legislative session are right about one thing: State government does need to get in touch with the people.

There are better, cheaper ways to accomplish that goal than moving the legislative sessions, including:

-- Get more Alaskans involved in government at the voting booth. The voting booth is the most accessible, effective tool for good government that exists. Unfortunately, too many Alaskans aren't taking advantage of it. If people don't like government as it is today, they should be voting people out of office.

-- Rekindle Alaskans' enthusiasm for citizen involvement. Before more time is wasted on efforts to move the Legislature, more time should be invested in the civics task force created earlier this year. If that task force is able to answer why more Alaskans aren't participating in government by exercising their right to vote, then it will better enable Alaskans to find lasting ways to better connect the government with the people and vice versa.

-- Reduce the influence big money, partisan politics and special interest groups can have on legislators.

-- Make the most of the high-tech, wired world in which we live. During the session, legislators are as close as a toll-free phone call, fax or e-mail message. Plus, legislators hold regularly scheduled constituent meetings during the session and frequently return to their districts. If legislators are unresponsive, it is not because the legislative session is held in Juneau it is because we have elected the wrong people to office.

-- Shorten the legislative sessions. With 120-day sessions, legislators are in their districts far more than they are in Juneau. Nevertheless, it could easily be argued that they don't need to spend that much time in the Capital City. Shortening the session could help change the perception that legislators are up to no good hiding out in Juneau with all those lobbyists.

Location, location, location may be the three most important factors in buying real estate. But location is hardly the cornerstone of good government.

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