Students sit on the front steps of the Alaska Capitol on April 6, 2018. (James Brooks photo | Juneau Empire)

Students sit on the front steps of the Alaska Capitol on April 6, 2018. (James Brooks photo | Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Candidates must be held accountable on capital issues

We’ve seen it many times. Reporters ask gubernatorial candidates “do you support Juneau as the Capital?” That is met with the perfunctory “yes.” Next question.

The problem isn’t the answer. The problem is the right questions aren’t asked, and Juneauites think “their” candidate supports Juneau as the capital. The other problem is that local representatives don’t always act in ways that support Juneau as the capital.

“Do you support returning state jobs to Juneau that other administrations have moved out?” Each administration, whether led by a Republican, Democrat or Independent governor, has moved jobs elsewhere, like Juneau jobs are cherries to pick and sow elsewhere. A good example of that happened when Chief of Staff Jim Clark and the governor moved ferry headquarters jobs out of Juneau. Their empty former HQ at 7-mile is a monument to that.

While that example was egregious, most state jobs move with little notice or objection. Most don’t know about it at all; they move slowly but steadily. It’s continuous and detrimental to all of Alaska, not just Juneau.

“Will you require your commissioners and deputy commissioner to live and work in Juneau the entirety of your administration?” Candidates say their commissioners will live in Juneau. Many commissioners come to Juneau after inauguration, then move back to Anchorage. They take administrative staff and deputies with them. Every analysis of Juneau’s economy clearly shows the reduction in state jobs. That is not just a function of state budget cuts, but decisions to move jobs.

The Directory of Public Officials shows far more state department divisions, boards, commissions, and public corporations outside Juneau. All the support staff move, too. More staff in the governor’s office have phone numbers out of Juneau than in.

What to do? Reporters should ask good follow-up questions and candidates who win should be held to keeping jobs in Juneau. That requires aggressive, savvy Juneau legislators, in the majority, who hold hearings, keep legislation bottled up until commitments are met, auditing agencies, and never again allowing a legislative session outside Juneau and never allowing legislators to watching the Legislature act while a session goes on outside Juneau.

The Assembly can do far more to make Juneau a better capital and serve as a model capital city for Alaska and the nation. Supporting the Alaska Committee is a good step. But Assembly members should consider:

Support ground transportation to Alaska. Haines and Skagway both oppose that but they have roads to Alaska. It is unreasonable for a family of five with a truck to pay more than $700 to travel to Haines on the occasional ferry. The road may not happen in the short term, but this is an important long-term strategy as ferry service declines along with Juneau’s population.

Support Southeast communities. One step would be to never do again what the CBJ did, trying to take land Petersburg claimed first, and then suing it when Juneau didn’t get what it wanted. Any Assembly member who thought that would engender support for Juneau as the capital should explain their thinking at a Petersburg community forum. The next stop would be in Angoon to discuss Juneau’s desire to claim lands it claims.

Support legislators and staff during session. The Assembly voted to fine drivers $100 who linger to pick up passengers. That is backward thinking. Instead of citing visitors and their drivers, we should develop reserved parking for the governor, lt. governor, commissioners and legislators. Make the primary place where visitors enter Juneau a positive, not punitive, experience.

Fully fund education by paying the amount legally allowed by the spending cap. That is a good investment in an educated workforce and shows the state that Juneau steps up and pays for what is important. Other communities compare what they do and Juneau should always lead on education funding.

Purchase two lots along Seward and 5th and build a lieutenant governor’s residence. That enhances the capitol campus and shows support for the executive branch by having a home for our lieutenant governor.

It is important for the Assembly and our representatives to develop and restore Juneau as the capital, and demonstrate that we know how to do it.

• Attorney Bruce Weyhrauch represented Juneau in the Alaska Legislature from 2003 to 2007 before becoming embroiled in the VECO scandal. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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