Art Chance: Change comes at a price

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By ART CHANCE

I’ve never really understood the antipathy towards Alaska’s Legislature. I’ve been around long enough to remember when everything that didn’t go the way the Editorial Board of The Anchorage Times wanted, it was because the capital was in Juneau and the Legislature met there. 

The voters of Anchorage and the Mat-Su embraced moving the capital from Juneau; the rest of the State not so much, but the ballot initiative did pass.  

Paying for the move was another matter, and the anti-move forces proved to be far better propagandists than were the capital movers. Alaska was full of big ideas in those days and the “Buy the NFL” campaign was masterful. Both live football and a nearby team, the Seahawks, were still new, and Alaska was more than a little football crazy. The central notion was that Alaska could buy every club in the NFL for less than it would cost to move the Capital from Juneau. Every town in Alaska could have its own football team. Or they could move the capital.

It was utter fiction but the pro-movers couldn’t effectively rebut it and it left a mark. Then, as now, the Juneau denizens knew more about running and keeping the government than the capital movers knew about taking it.

Moving the capital has long been a Republican thing, and keeping it in Juneau has been a Democrat thing. It bears remembering that Alaska was so deeply Democratic that it was only admitted to the Union concurrently with equally deeply Republican Hawaii, and Alaska remained firmly Democrat until the 1980 election gave the Republicans control of the State Senate (The 1964 House was 20-20, but the Speaker was Bruce Kendall, then still a Democrat.)   

I read with interest the comments to Gov. Dunleavy’s piece here on Must Read Alaska about his public safety initiatives in which various self-styled true conservatives are screaming at him for not exercising dictatorial powers; Alaska’s governor has great authority over running the Executive Branch of State government, but actually has very little authority over running the rest of the state.   

The Legislature runs the state and the governor just follows orders. The governor can issue administrative orders regarding the processes of the Executive Branch with pretty much untrammeled authority, so long as the order is constitutional.  The governor can also issue executive orders on other matters, but they are subject to review and potential reversal by either the courts or the Legislature. In terms of promulgating statutory authority, Alaska is a very democratic state. Alaska’s founders took that business about all power coming from the people seriously and the Legislature is the instrument of that power.

My friend Mike Tavoliero has a piece up on Must Read Alaska about moving the legislative session to Southcentral.   I’m not opposed to it but, I don’t share Mike’s enthusiasm for it.   

If you moved the session to downtown Anchorage, the only thing that would change would be there would be more school kids in the gallery and more frustrated teachers trying to get them to take their ear buds out and stop texting. Everybody who knows enough about issues and politics to talk coherently with a legislator already knows how to contact a legislator. Sadly, lots who don’t know how to talk coherently also know how to contact a legislator.   

If the communist dimwits that have controlled the Anchorage Assembly in recent years could get interested in anything other than feathering their and their friends’ in the homeless industrial complex’s nest, they’d have long ago gifted the unused Egan Center to the Legislature and maybe put up a little seed money for necessary remodeling.   

Of course these are the same left wing nuts who trashed a Legislative Information Office near the downtown government complex just because some Republicans might have gotten nice offices. Later, the police that the Lefties hate got a nice office from that debacle for a few dimes on the dollar.

Back to Mike’s point, you really haven’t lived until you’ve been a Republican elected or appointed official in the beautiful, friendly People’s Republic of Juneau. By the later years of my career there, Juneau was as segregated as the small southern town where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s; Republicans went to Republican places and did Republican things, while Democrats went to Democrat places and did Democrat things.  

To this day I don’t share the same room with a Democrat unless it is a public accommodation or I’m being paid to be there. My union “friends” gave me my own shrine in the front window of the Teamster’s Hall across from the Willoughby Street entrance to the Juneau State Office Building, the SOB; the most aptly named building in America. 

Juneau isn’t all bad or all lefty.  I had a prominent local lefty do a Mad Maxine Waters on me and confront me in “The Hangar,” a popular watering hole, one evening.  I had reached the “I don’t care” stage of my career and got right in his face and insulted and threatened him out of the joint. I couldn’t buy a drink for the rest of the evening.

For the Executive Branch, the capital has largely moved; most of the commissioners and directors are based in Anchorage and are only in Juneau for session. Other than the infrastructure divisions, those that are the ministers of the internal government, Juneau is basically a regional center for the government; much like Fairbanks.   

The legislative session gives a welcome boost to the Juneau economy in the winter and keeps it from becoming Sitka, Ketchikan, or Skagway, which are ghost towns when the cruise ships leave. But then, so is Anchorage. If you haven’t noticed — and it is easy not to notice because there is no reason to go there — Downtown Anchorage is a wasteland.

I disagree with most of the fundamental principles of the opponents of Juneau as the capital. You can’t hide in Juneau.  If you want to hide, you go to Anchorage, or basically any place other than Juneau. There are a helluva lot more discrete, comfortable watering holes in Anchorage than in Juneau.   

It is a valid argument that Juneau is too remote and too expensive to travel to or subsist in. The only argument that makes any sense to rational people is a purely economic argument. Had I moved my division to Anchorage, it would have been a 25% or so raise for me and my staff, and would have saved the State several hundred thousand dollars a year in travel costs.

I think it is inevitable; the capitol has always been in the political and economic center of the State. Kodiak was the center of Russian government, then Sitka. Sitka remained the Capital until Juneau exploded with gold wealth in the early years of the 20th Century.   

For much of the first half of the 20th Century Juneau was the richest town in America and maybe The World and was the seat of Territorial Government and then the State.   

The economic center of Alaska today is Anchorage, for better or worse. Just remember that all those leftist interest groups that haven’t already moved their offices to Anchorage will follow the capital here. They make for interesting neighbors.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. 

40 COMMENTS

  1. …….young legislative staffers, fresh out of college in the 80’s, were mostly Lefties, same as today. Easy hook-ups in Juneau if you were a Democrat. ADN writers would hang out in Juneau and date married legislators. Commissioners sampled the box of candies in the Capitol too. And some legislators dated other legislators or their staffers. Homosexual trysts were also common in the 80’s in the Capitol. Republican staffers had it a bit different. Disenfranchised, unless they were RINO breed or closet conservatives. Downtown watering holes in Juneau were primarily for the “in” Democrats. Out of town news reporters were all Lefties and hung-out with Democrat staffers. How in the world did our own Suzanne survive her tenure in Juneau as the Empire editor in chief?

    • I was suddenly single in Juneau in the late ’80s. There were a gaggle of Special Assistants and Deputy Commissioners who were single or something like it. Every single man’s ambition in those days was to sleep with just one woman before one of them had.

  2. Unalaska was also a previous center of Alaskan government and so was Unga at one time. A move may raise chaos a bit but we have that anyway. The major benefit to the legislators is their constiuents are no longer myths.

  3. We might improve the quality of people in government if they didn’t have to move to Juneau or commute. I was involved in the search for a commissioner that went way down the list before we found someone who was willing. Even if interested, candidates all seemed to have kids in school, spouses who worked, comfortable home and neighborhood, and so on.

  4. Yeah, my only point was the money. I’m all for fair market and the Chilkoot Charlie approach to our command economy…Not!. Problem is none of us and that includes my parents and, possibly, my grand parents, when they came to this country, ever really experienced a real free market. I do think where ever the Legislative session lands, it could save not just the state money, but the people who are invested as legislators.

    Just seems to me that having a session on the road system will cost legislators a ton less.

    That’s all.

  5. In the early 80’s there was a lot of activity around moving the Capitol from Juneau to some place on Alaska’s Railbelt road system….and may have happened had Tom Fink won the 1982 election but with Dick Randolf in the race with Bill Sheffield, Tom Fink came in second….but was clearly the then head of the Republican party and very popular Statewide….two years later Bill Sheffield was almost impeached and had that happened there was a better than even bet Tom Fink would have been the next Governor and one that favored moving the capitol from Juneau..something clearly in the mind of Dick Eliason when he joined the Senate Democrats to effectively kill the impeachment of Sheffield…

  6. As a fellow told me once, move the capital to the Mat-Su Valley and within 4 years the Lazy Mountain Snowmachine club will have transitioned to the Palmer Pride Chorus. With at least 3 homosexuals on the Anchorage Assembly there is no difference between Anchorage and Juneau except that Anchorage is 10 times bigger and 20 times dirtier. Neither city knows much at all about Alaska. And Fairbanks my be the largest government enclave in North America aside from DC and Toronto.

  7. If internal exile to a remote location made sense, perhaps other states would imitate our moves in hopes of achieving our fabulous outcomes.

  8. “Everybody who knows enough about issues and politics to talk coherently with a legislator already knows how to contact a legislator. Sadly, lots who don’t know how to talk coherently also know how to contact a legislator.” That’s funny, and true.
    .
    Having our population base have access to our legislature during session should not be discounted.

          • Since you are unable to pose an actual question, the response to your jumbled up mess of words is….
            .
            Yes, or no, or maybe.
            .
            Your word salad isn’t clear on what you are looking for. Try a quick experiment say the words you wrote down to some one and see if they look at you weird, if they ask if you are having a stroke that would be more evidence.

      • Bill,
        Since you can’t be bothered to form a coherent question (ironic given the quote in my comment), let’s try to skin this cat another way…
        .
        Do you think that watching legislators on a TV or computer screen, like what Gavel to Gavel provides and the majority of people in this state can get for coverage of our legislature, is the same thing as having real-time in-person access to legislators?

        • Gavel-Gavel provides most Alaskans a look at legislative proceedings while these same Alaskans have access (to their legislators) via their LIOs. Of course emails and telephones are also a way for access to these same legislators but are you of the opinion we need to provide some sort of “in-person” access to their legislators?
          Of course you may also think there is some huge pent-up demand, by Alaskans, to get a sit-down with their legislators but what’s keeping them from flying into Juneau for such? A hell of a lot cheaper than your capitol move BS.
          I live in Juneau and have for over 40 years and have only testified one time before a Legislative Committee, back in 1989. Further, back then there was nothing like LIOs or Gavel-Gavel.

          • Sounds like you don’t have a problem moving the legislature and watching it on Gavel to Gavel while other more interested Alaskans take part in the process.
            .
            Thanks for your support in this matter Bill.

          • Why would anyone want spend all the money to move the legislature anywhere but Juneau. That’s where that Gavel-gavel is located and paid for.
            You thinking we can just take that money out of the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund like Dunleavy’s “one-time” raiding of it?

  9. Move the capital, it’s easy and should never cost millions to move, I can absolutely assure you , fill a barge with all the books and desk and computers, I know it should not cost a million dollars, yet you say it will cost millions .Please explain how it could cost a million or more.A barge cost about 25,000 a day, now please explain …

    • If that was directed at me, I don’t think you have any idea of what moving the Capital from Juneau would entail; it won’t be like throwing your crap in the back of the pickup and moving to a new apartment.

      Moving the Capital means moving it all to Willow, where there are no structures or infrastructure for it. Admittedly the FRANK Committee jacked up the potential cost as much as they dared, but at minimum it would be well into the hundreds of millions, and depending on how the current employees were dealt with could bet well into the billions.

      I haven’t looked it up lately but there are probably around 3000 State employees in Juneau. About 2/3 of them would have to be either transferred and relocated or laid off and ultimately paid off and separated. As Juneau transitioned into a regional center the remaining third would have some sort of job there. That is going to leave a lot of empty office space in Juneau and nothing is likely to fill it. Juneau will become like the other towns in Southeast, a tourist trap in summer and a ghost town in winter.

      I don’t see the Governor or Legislature that would be willing to tell over 2000 employees that their job is being relocated and they are free to exercise layoff rights to follow it but at their own expense. Won’t happen; and the biggest opposition will come from the banks that hold their mortgages. So, if you move the capital, you’re going to pay to move most of the employees. Remember these are unionized employees and you might wind up buying their Juneau house from them, so the State gets to own a lot of empty houses.

      A part of that calculus is that you can’t replace a lot of them; they have specialized skills that you can’t just go out on the Alaska job market and buy, and if you try to buy it somewhere else the relocation expense would be even greater.

      However that got worked out, it is going to take a lot of labor to move thousands of computers including a whole mainframe operation, and it is going to take a lot of barges to move the accoutrement that goes with a couple of thousand employees.

      Then, you confront that there are zero facilities in Willow so they would have to be built, and since that would be publicly funded construction it will be union on Davis-Bacon or better wages so multiply a reasonable cost by three or four.

      If the Willow Capital falls by the wayside, maybe the rest of the State doesn’t hate the giant sucking sound from Anchorage as much as it did in the late Seventies, early Eighties, there is plenty of empty space in Anchorage, though you have a good war with the unions over parking Downtown.

      I can go on for awhile with things you haven’t thought of; still think it is easy?

      • $15.7 billion in the CBR, plus s couple billion more stashed away under various state agency mattresses say’s it’s doable.
        Don’t move anything out of Juneau except a few hard drives of essential records. Not even the coffee machines. Leave all the obsolete junk behind. Especially the legacy software; most of which isn’t even supported by the developers anymore..
        A brand new Cray can be had for under 80 million. Add a few million for a copy of a tried and true OS that’s already working in many cities. No boondoggle with private contractor programmer friends getting tens of millions for a nothing burger OS.
        A brand new capital building, and legislative offices won’t cost much more than what we’ve already soaked into our prisons, gas line, bridges to nowhere, and etc. Private enterprise will finance all the supporting infrastructure.
        Even after $5 billion gets skimmed off the top, from the middle, and from the bottom, there will still be enough left to build Willow.

        • I was just trying to point out what was actually involved. I agree with you about the physical assets; most of it is old junk bought from either the lowest bidder or highest contributor, mostly the latter.

          Most State software is junk provided on boondoggle contracts by people who could fake it if you hummed a few bars. I don’t know that the State could ever honestly procure new systems, but it might be worth a try.

          The real costs of a Capital move are the human costs. Something around 2/3 to 3/4 of the workforce that would need to be relocated are homeowners; there will be nobody to buy their house if they have to move. The reality of government work is for the most part government does what nobody else will do, so there are no private sector jobs that do the same work. The job that gets you a $100K and a blue suit in government will barely get you a blue vest in the private sector. Employees who get laid off in a capital move will sweat it out for a few weeks or months and then throw their house keys and mortgage coupon book in the night deposit box and hit the AlCan. We dealt with this in the mid-80s oil price crash and ultimately decided we didn’t want to lay off any more than we absolutely had to because we already had enough foreclosed houses and repossessed cars in Alaska.

          I’m not opposed on principle to moving at least the Legislature if not the entire Capital to the road system. I think putting it in Anchorage is a much more practical choice than building our own Brazillia at Willow. That said, it ain’t like throwing your crap in the back seat and moving to a new apartment.

          • During WW-2 America put the men in the army, and the women in the factories. New factories were built in nowhere USA. We cranked out more ships and aircraft of all types than what the rest of the world had ever seen. There was the will, we came up with the way, and it got done.
            All Alaska needs is the will. The way is there, waiting for the go-ahead and just do it.

  10. Today’s Anchorage is looking too small and too democrat (and democrats’ community life version is dull – nothing but work and home) where the only place offering culture and community are churches, when they are open, which they aren’t open enough. This should be the time no church should be seen with their lights off and empty parking lots. Sigh.

    • Our town’s church leaders and wives I think don’t spend enough time on their knees to hear how to serve beyond feeding peoples physical needs and not enough time in the word with one another. Their lack of love is going to cause people as art chance to agian move for greener pastures

  11. Well done Art. Very insightful and as concise as possible given the breadth of of the topic. I especially appreciate the fair assessment that not all of Juneau is lefties. I wish I had been there at the hangar that night. But I didn’t hang out there much after it wasn’t Annabelle Lees. Now that was a watering hole. Perhaps one of the best ever. Keep up the good work.

    • I’ve been there when it was Annabelle Lee’s, Yancy Derringer’s, and The Hangar. Didn’t hang there much during the Knowles Administration because it was so infested with Democrats; we “deplorables,” before that was a thing, mostly had our “safety meetings” at The Prospector because it was non-union, so the crazy lefties mostly stayed out of there.
      Thank you for the kind words.

  12. The state-wide fixation on where our capital is located testifies to the government-centric, socialist, nature of Alaska. There is no similar fixation in any other state; no one cares about the capital being in Olympia, Albany, Montpelier…. or any other place except Juneau. Our pathological government dependency is a blight upon our communist-leaning 49th state.

    • Many states have moved their capitals; it just happened in the 18th and 19th Centuries. My old home state of Georgia moved its capital four times. The first in the Colonial Era and early in the Republic was Savannah, then to Louisville, then Milledgeville, and finally after the Civil War to Atlanta, where it has remained, though there is plenty of sentiment to move it out of that communist mess.

      • Art, I accept your correction… provisionally. However insufficiently implied, my point was intended to apply to our modern era. Especially in the sense an average American simply does not rely upon, or focus upon, state government to the degree the average Alaskan does.

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