Is this the year you're going to become a "citizen lobbyist" and visit the Alaska state Legislature in Juneau?
It can be daunting to consider the details of a trip to Alaska's capital city. But the payoff is a chance for a face-to-face meeting with your legislators while they are considering the budget, a bill or a position. A visit to the Capitol also is a great way to show off the workings of government to the whole family.
Getting there: There are three programs to get to Juneau from Anchorage and other Alaska jet destinations in the state. The first is using Alaska Airlines miles. It's just 15,000 miles round-trip from any other destination in Alaska. The Anchorage-Juneau flights have plenty of seats available at the 15,000-mile level.
Take advantage of Alaska's constituent fare. If you have a mileage plan number, Alaska Air deposited an e-certificate in your account that gives you a nice discount if you're traveling within four to seven days. From Anchorage, the round-trip fare is $332-$381.
If you have time to plan, take advantage of Alaska's Club 49 specials. Earlier this week, Alaska offered round-trip tickets for $254. I got one of those tickets during one of their earlier sales. The Club 49 deals starts on Tuesday and you must purchase by Thursday evening.
Before you go: What's at the top of your list? Is it the Permanent Fund dividend program? The ferry system? Fish and game regulations? Education funding? Roads? Oil and gas taxes/incentives? All of it is in the budget and it's on the line right now.
It's a good idea to correspond with your legislators by phone or email so you can get a good idea of the bills and budget timeline for issues that are important to you. Right now, the House has labeled the budget as its first priority. So those items that cost money or generate revenue are on the agenda right now. In addition to individual measures for spending or taxes, the Legislature is working through the budget that Gov. Bill Walker submitted on Feb. 5.
Let your legislators (or their staff) know that you're coming so they can make an appointment between their committee meetings, floor sessions and caucus meetings. Legislators want to welcome constituents to the Capitol, but they're busy. Ask if the staff has time to show you around the state Capitol, including the House and Senate chambers. Plan to visit when the House or Senate is in session and your senator or representative will introduce you to the whole group. Bring your camera.
On the ground: It's possible to go to Juneau from Anchorage and back again in one day. I've done it many times. Flight 62 leaves Anchorage at 8 a.m. and gets in at 9:15 a.m. It's possible you'll see your legislator on the plane! Flight 67 returns from Juneau at 7:55 p.m., arriving at 9:34 p.m.
If you're just going for the day, catch a cab for the 15-minute ride to the Capitol. You can rent a car, but you might spend valuable time hunting for a parking place. Save the rental car when you have more time to explore the area.
Spend the night: Do some exploring. Check out the restaurants. Fly in the night before and get a good night's sleep. Most downtown hotels have a free shuttle to the airport, so you don't need to call a cab. I usually stay at the Driftwood Hotel on Willoughby Street, about a five-minute walk to the Capitol building. If you ask at the front desk, they will tell you how to go through the State Office Building, which straddles the ridge between the hotel and the Capitol. You can go inside the building and take the elevator up eight floors, then walk across the street to the Capitol.
The Driftwood is just one option. But it's adjacent to my favorite breakfast spot: the Sandpiper Cafe. Get the breakfast burritos. They're delicious. The Westmark Baranof Hotel on Franklin Street is a favorite with legislators, lobbyists and other out-of-towners. The restaurant, The Capital Cafe, serves up a good breakfast. This is a "power breakfast" spot -- so it's fun to look around to see who else is in the room.
Check with Travel Juneau for a comprehensive list of downtown hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and airport hotels.
Have lunch downtown, just steps from the Capitol. I enjoyed a bowl of kimchee/pork sausage/vegetable ramen at The Rookery Cafe recently (111 Seward St.). It's an unusual combination, but it was perfect for a rainy Juneau afternoon. There are a bunch of restaurants within a couple of blocks, including El Sombrero and Subway. Down by the water, you'll find the Hangar on the Wharf. They make delicious burgers, but a half-order of nachos filled me up!
Save room for coffee if you have to go back for afternoon appointments at the Capitol. Heritage Coffee opened a new cafe and coffee shop on the corner of Seward and Front streets, right across from the Rookery. On your way back up Seward Street to the Capitol, stop in at Pie In The Sky (223 Seward St.). The selection changes daily, but I've had delicious apple pie, chocolate pie, Key lime pie and several other varieties. It's delicious.
Rent a car and explore the area. Even if you've got a busy schedule at the Capitol with legislators, committee hearings and floor sessions, you still can take some time and see the sights. The Mount Roberts tram is closed this time of year, but Mendenhall Glacier is a 20-minute drive from downtown. Drive over the Douglas Bridge to get a beautiful view of the Juneau skyline.
With a car, you can get over to the Island Pub for some wood fire-roasted pizza. Take a drive north to the Shrine of St. Therese. It sits on the water and offers a beautiful setting for beachcombing and quiet reflection. It's 22 miles north of downtown.
What to bring: I wear my Xtratufs. A good, sturdy raincoat is a must, along with a pair of gloves if you're going to be outside. Juneau is not as cold as Anchorage, but it rains more often. Be prepared.
Juneau is a pretty town with good food and friendly people. But this time of year, the legislative session is the main event — and the whole town throws out the welcome mat. For most of us in Alaska, a visit to Juneau necessitates some extra time and extra money. But it's important for our legislators and staff to get clear direction from their constituents. It's important during their town meetings when they're home from Juneau. But it's also helpful when they're considering bills throughout the session.
Visiting with leaders from both parties, the universal sentiment is that it's important to put a budget together and close the deficit. How that's done and what it will take in terms of taxes, your PFD and spending cuts still is unclear. That's one big reason why this is a good year to go to Juneau.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.