Area group forms to lobby for new Legislature locale

Posted: Monday, December 06, 2004

A small band of central Kenai Peninsula voters got together in Soldotna on Thursday and formed a committee to look into moving the state's Legislature out of Juneau.

Organized by Molly Musgrove of Kalifornsky Beach, the 11 people elected Rex Weimer as their leader and established the goal of moving the Alaska Legislature to a site closer to the largest number of Alaska voters, namely the Anchorage metropolitan area.

"We want to move the Legislature and get the new Capitol building stopped," Musgrove said.

The city of Juneau recently announced plans to build a new $100 million Capitol building, which it would lease to the state for about $6.5 million a year, according to Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho.

Botelho said the proposed new building would be 160,000 to 180,000 square feet and funded by revenue bonds issued by the city of Juneau.

A panel of judges is in the process of paring down a list of 43 firms that have submitted architectural designs for the building.

Botelho said the juried panel will convene this week to cut the list to eight, then four and finally one sometime in March.

The winning design is to be submitted to the Legislature for approval early in the coming legislative session.

"We hope to dedicate the new Capitol on Jan. 3, 2009, the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood," Botelho said from his Juneau office Thursday.

While the project schedule appears to be firm as told by Botelho, the group meeting in Soldotna heard differently from legislative staffers Erich DeLand and Neal DuPerron, who assist Reps. Mike Chenault and Kelly Wolf, respectively.

"Juneau has slit its own throat by starting this whole rigamarole," DeLand said Thursday night.

The staff assistants said informal polling of legislative offices around the state has indicated that "Juneau is not going to get a dime to build (the Capitol)."

Saying they could not speak for the representatives, the staffers said they could offer advice to the group on how to organize, how to obtain information on exact costs of having the state Legislature in Juneau and how to register as a lobbyist group.

"We need to know the cost of leaving (the Legislature) there versus the cost of moving it," Musgrove said.

Ed Martin Sr., a member of the group, said, "We need to get good numbers that Joe Blow can understand indisputable numbers then publicize it, write letters to the editor, and so on."

DuPerron advised the group to contact the Legislative Affairs Office to learn exactly what it costs "to move down there two times a year ... moving furniture if the legislators want, D.P. data processing phones."

Vicki Pate of Nikiski suggested that rather than having the Legislature move, the body should conduct its business by way of teleconferencing from their local Legislative Information Offices.

She said because legislators would then remain in their districts, their constituents would have more ready access to them.

"It would give the advantage to the constituents and disadvantage the lobbyists," she said. "Alaska could be the forefront of this advanced technology."

Weimer said, "Right now, Juneau is trying to push to get the Capitol built there."

"That idea is dead on arrival," DeLand said.

Musgrove then asked that the 11 concerned citizens vote on whether their goal should be to support moving the Capitol out of Juneau or moving the Legislature.

The group voted 9-0 in favor of moving the Legislature. Two people did not vote.

"That's the key," Martin said. "We're trying to get a government that's responsive to the people."

"I hate it as much as anybody else, but the people are in Anchorage," said Scott Hamann as the group discussed where the new home of the Legislature should be.

Recalling past votes on the issue, some suggested the new location be in Willow. But Botelho disagrees.

"There are three reasons for building a new Capitol," he said. "Number one, the inadequacies of the current building."

The mayor said the building was built between 1929 and 1931, when Alaska was a territory and the building was not designed as a Capitol, but rather as a territorial office.

Because of that design purpose, it has a small public gallery space, which doesn't allow many Alaskans the opportunity to observe the legislative process. It has small meeting rooms for legislative committees and has no waiting areas in which members of the public can comfortably wait to see their elected leaders.

Botelho also criticized the fact that the existing Capitol has no public gathering space, such as a rotunda.

The second reason is somewhat philosophical, Botelho said. He said the city of Juneau invited political science experts and architects to speak to the issue of a new Capitol and learned the construction of a Capitol is a "right of passage" of a state coming into statehood.

"Alaska is the only one that hasn't done it," he said.

One of the political science experts told of the importance of a state's Capitol as a symbol of democracy, aimed at establishing a separation of powers and creating a legacy, Botelho said.

He said the third reason for building the new structure is "more parochial to Southeast" (Alaska).

"We are trying to secure the Capitol in Juneau," Botelho said.

Over the past 40 years, the issue has come up repeatedly. In 1960, voters opposed moving the Capitol. In 1974, voters approved relocating the seat of government and building a new Capitol. In 1976, Willow was selected on a subsequent ballot measure.

Since then, voters have not approved funding the move, have voted against moving the Capitol to Wasilla and have voted against moving the Legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.

After Weimer was unanimously elected to lead the peninsula group, Petria Falkenberg and Lenora Pepin volunteered to assist with gathering information about the costs of moving the Legislature.

The group plans to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Musgrove home off Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kenai. For directions, interested people may call 283-4268.

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