Move won't make government better

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

When Alaskans return to the polls Nov. 5, not only will they be selecting a new governor and lieutenant governor and filling almost all 60 seats in the Legislature, they also will have before them a variety of ballot measures.

Among them is Ballot Measure No. 2, which would move all legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. If adequate places for the sessions are not available, the Legislature would meet in Anchorage until facilities were available in the Mat-Su. The measure also repeals the requirements that before the state can spend money to move the legislature, voters must be informed of the costs, as determined by a neutral commission, and approve all bondable costs of the move.

If you've lived in Alaska for any length of time, measures to move the capital are nothing new to you. Alaskans have voted on the issue seven times since 1960; the most recent proposal was defeated in 1994. It really is time to let this divisive, expensive issue rest and put out energies toward something more productive.

Supporters of the ballot measure say it is not a capital move; they call it a legislative move. Their reasoning for such a move is cloaked in almost heroic terms: to make lawmakers more accessible and accountable to the people they serve. In other words, backers of the move would like Alaskans to believe the move would result in better government.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Moving the legislature means moving the capital -- maybe not all at once, but eventually it would happen. It is foolish to think state government would function more efficiently and less expensively if the legislative branch was in one part of the state and the administrative branch in another.

Such a move not only would divide Alaskans more, but it also would give that area of the state that already has the most legislative clout, even more.

The inadequacies of state government and our elected officials -- whether perceived or real -- can't be fixed by changing the location of where those people work. Forgive us for sounding like a broken record on this topic, but it bears repeating: Good government has nothing to do with where the legislature meets or where the capital is located. It has everything to do with electing responsible, accessible people to office. It has everything to do with people participating in government at the most basic level, and that's by voting.

Here's where pro-movers really run into trouble with their accessibility arguments. The majority of Alaskans don't participate in government at the most accessible level: the voting booth, which is located within almost every Alaskan's neighborhood. If 75 percent of eligible voters can't take the time to drive to the polls, why in the heck would anyone think they would want to drive to someplace in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to buttonhole legislators?

"The people" don't wander down the street for the nearest city council meeting. They rarely check in on assembly or school board members. They don't show up in droves for teleconferenced constituent meetings that legislators regularly schedule during the session. Plus, legislators are in their home districts for all but the approximate four months of the session, and even during the session they make frequent trips back home.

Who's not accessible? Those are the people Alaskans should be voting out of office, because moving the capital won't make them more accessible, more accountable or more responsible.

If access really is the problem -- and we don't believe it is -- moving the capital is an 18th century solution to it. There are multiple ways to communicate with legislators in this day and age -- all of them faster, more efficient and cheaper than getting on a plane and flying to Juneau or getting in a car and driving to the Mat-Su. There are plenty of opportunities for face-to-face discussion with legislators both during the legislative session and during the interim.

Alaska is a big state where transportation challenges abound. No place is going to be completely accessible to all Alaskans if we think in traditional terms. Technology, however, holds the potential to connect all Alaskans in ways that roads, ferries and planes cannot. Why don't we concentrate our energies on improving that kind of access -- real, equal access for all Alaskans? Much already has been accomplished to that end with legislative sessions broadcast on television and over the Internet. Committee hearings also are broadcast and archived online. More can be done as technology advances.

It's disappointing that Alaskans seem stuck on a horse-and-buggy solution for a problem that pro-movers have incorrectly defined. The problem with government today is not that the capital is not located within driving distance of most of Alaska's population. If that were the case, other states would be boasting of their responsive, responsible and accessible elected officials and that's just not the case. If good government meant centrally located government, the nation's capital would not be located in Washington, D.C.

The problem is that people are disconnected from government, and the fix for that is far more complex than moving legislators to where more people live.

Not only will Ballot Measure No. 2 be unable to deliver on its implied promise of better, cheaper government, it also gives the state a blank check to make the move if it passes.

Alaskans could not afford a move when oil money was plentiful; they certainly cannot afford a move now.

Alaskans should reject this latest capital move effort and put the issue to rest -- once and for all. It will not lead to better government, and there are better ways to spend our money.

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