Wasilla lawmaker would move Legislature to Anchorage, permanently

If a Wasilla lawmaker gets her way, the Alaska Legislature will pack up and move to Anchorage ─ permanently.

On Friday, Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, introduced House Bill 185. If approved by the House, Senate and Gov. Bill Walker, HB 185 would move the Legislature to an as-yet-undetermined Anchorage location.

“My desire is to have Legislative sessions held in the largest city in the state … where proximity to the highest population base could be achieved,” Sullivan-Leonard said.

Sullivan-Leonard’s move is the latest attempt in what has been almost a perennial tradition since Alaska became a state in 1959. Citizen initiatives, governors and legislators have all tried to move the Legislature from Juneau.

All those attempts have failed, and Sullivan-Leonard’s proposal appears likely to fail as well.

“I oppose it, and I think our coalition opposes it,” said Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham.

Sullivan-Leonard is a member of the House’s Republican minority. Edgmon has assigned HB 185 to the House State Affairs Committee and the House Finance Committee.

“The likelihood of me moving a bill that moves the capital out of Juneau is similar to (the likelihood of) Donald Trump making peace with Mexican immigrants,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka and chairman of the state affairs committee.

“Juneau is Alaska’s capital city, and Juneau is my capital city,” he added.

If the bill somehow survived its committee of first referral ─ “it might be its committee of only referral,” Kreiss-Tomkins said ─ HB 185 would go to the House Finance Committee.

“I don’t perceive that it will be getting much support,” said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.

The long odds haven’t deterred Sullivan-Leonard, who said Juneau simply isn’t accessible.

“Unfortunately, our capital city is not on the road system. Accessibility is challenged,” she said.

Sullivan-Leonard said she’s observed empty spectator galleries in Juneau floor sessions, and few of her constituents have been able to attend in person.

“I look back in the gallery. None of my constituents are there. Very few people are there.

“I think it’s important for us to give people a chance to see government in action,” she said.

Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage and the House Majority Leader, said that argument might have held weight before cellphones and TV.

“People, through technology these days, are able to monitor and follow along pretty well,” he said.

The TV service Gavel to Gavel broadcasts legislative hearings statewide, and the Legislature’s own website makes bills, amendments and actions available instantly statewide.

When the Legislature held a special session in Anchorage in 2015, TV cameras showed rows of empty seats.

“I would argue that people did show up. I know that people did mill in the back of the room,” Sullivan-Leonard said.

If that was the case, no one outside Anchorage would know. Gavel to Gavel couldn’t broadcast the hearings.

Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.


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