JUNEAU — A proposed ballot measure seeks to move Alaska legislative sessions from the state capital of Juneau to the state's biggest city, Anchorage.
Supporters say they’re not trying to move the capital and see the proposal as a way to make the Legislature more accessible. Juneau isn’t on Alaska’s road system, requiring lawmakers and constituents to fly or take ferries to reach the city. Juneau also is about 600 miles from the population centers of Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
But critics of the idea see the capital and Legislature as intrinsically linked. "The capital is where the Legislature meets," said Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat. "So, it really is a capital move attempt."
Regular sessions, and generally extended and special sessions, are held in Juneau, though there have been special sessions and legislative hearings in Anchorage. Juneau has withstood prior attempts at moving the capital or legislative sessions.
Ken Jacobus, an attorney assisting sponsors of the proposed ballot measure, said Friday that legislatures normally meet in a state's capital city but shouldn't have to.
The proposal seeks exemption from state law related to voter approval of bondable costs to move the capital or Legislature. Jacobus said the sponsors aren't seeking to have new buildings built. He points to existing legislative office space in midtown Anchorage.
One of the sponsors, David Bronson of Anchorage, said he was put off by seeing a bill similar to the proposal from Republican Rep. George Rauscher of Sutton assigned to three committees for review, making its prospects dim.
Bronson said the issue, for him, is access.
Kiehl, a former Juneau Assembly member, takes issue with the accessibility argument, saying the state is large and someone will always have to travel.
Kiehl said Juneau has taken steps to be as welcoming and hospitable as possible and notes that legislative goings-on, such as hearings and floor sessions, are broadcast statewide and online.
If the initiative application passes a Department of Law review, supporters would need to gather signatures to try to qualify it for the ballot.