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Mike Dingman: Fiscal conservatives? Where?

Mike Dingman

Republican Rep. Mike Hawker is unhappy with his current digs.

The truth of the whole situation was pretty clear on Grace Jang's Channel 2 News story. Hawker pointed to faulty plumbing and failing ceiling tiles as justification for the remodel the Anchorage Legislative Information Office is currently undergoing.

However, fixing plumbing and ceiling tiles is not what's really going on.

Mark Pfeffer, president of Pfeffer Development, the Legislature's landlord at the LIO, is renovating the building to include moving into the old Empress Theater, which has most recently served as the Anchor Pub. Pfeffer said he will take care in dismantling the old building, keeping a dome and a wall that dates back to 1917 intact.

The Channel 2 report then went to the beautiful outer façade the developer is planning for the exterior of the building. It is a visually stunning exterior Rep. Hawker refers to as "lipstick on a pig."

That's expensive lipstick.

Fiscally conservative Republicans are fiscally conservative.

Or so I'm told.

The Legislature currently pays $56,863 per month for its offices in the Anchorage LIO. After Pfeffer fronts the bill for the $44 million dollars in renovations, the cost will more than quadruple to $281,638, which comes to more than $3.3 million a year.

But wait, that's not all. As Lisa Demer points out in her story in the Anchorage Daily News about the renovations, the state will also foot the cost for "$7.5 million for carpet, walls, doors, suspended ceilings and other basics to finish internal work spaces."

Jang's report says the new LIO will also sport "two showers, bathroom stalls made of maple wood and glass, as well as glass elevators."

That's a relief; I'm not sure how the Legislature would function without suspended ceilings, maple wood stall doors and glass elevators.

Not everybody in the Legislature is in favor of this extravagant project.

Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski told Jang he didn't think the state should be spending "that kind of money," but pointed out that the legislative council put Rep. Hawker in charge of this project, and he's in the minority.

Democratic Sen. Hollis French has stronger words: "I have a hard time explaining to my constituents why I need to quadruple the rent I'm paying here in a place that's entirely functional." In regard to the new elevators French said, "What's that thing about if you live in glass houses, you shouldn't throw rocks? Maybe politicians shouldn't have glass elevators."

The two Democrats -- one running for lieutenant governor and the other probably running for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (yes, you read me correctly) are certainly using this opportunity to look fiscally responsible to voters in next year's election.

Regardless of their motives, however -- they are right.

Hawker told Channel 2, "It will be transparent government, and folks will be able to come by, take a look in the windows and keep an eye on their government."

Is he serious? Was he able to spit that comment out with a straight face?

Let's forget for a minute how amazingly condescending of a concept it is that people would peek into the windows of Hawker's glass palace to gaze longingly at their government as a child would the toy he has little chance of getting for Christmas. Let's also pretend for a minute that looking through the window would give us some sort of substantive insight into the work the Legislature does. Has everyone forgotten that the LIO is where we keep legislative offices during the interim? There is no legislating going on when these offices aren't being fully utilized.

If you walk through the LIO on an average weekday, you will find a lot of closed doors, a staffer -- maybe two -- in a few offices and very few legislators. They can be seen making newsletters, drinking coffee and doing very little in terms of "government." They do most of that between January and April in Juneau.

The truth is, the legislators should have found less expensive and better equipped office space in midtown where new buildings are being put up every day and the rent is cheaper than their prime downtown location.

However, if you could build yourself a fancy work space with lots of glass and maple wood doors using other people's cash, wouldn't you?

Lining the pockets of a local developer is just an added perk.

So while you're watching the fancy glass façade being put up and maple stall doors being carefully hauled into the building on 4th Avenue, peek in through the glass and ask yourself - where are Alaska's fiscal conservatives?

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan, born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former student body president at UAA and has studied, worked and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s. Email,

Mike Dingman