Rep. John Coghill talked frankly with Juneau Chamber of Commerce members last week about pending legislation that could move part or all of state government from Juneau.
Coghill told city business people that Juneau must address these concerns or expect more pressure to move the State Capital, or at least some portion of state government.
The three different legislation options being discussed include moving legislative special sessions to Anchorage; "anyplace but Juneau," and "build it and they will come," Coghill said.
That last, House Bill 54, would allow communities from around the state to bid on the opportunity to build a new legislative hall building and provide state land to help finance the construction. It would also repeal the FRANK Initiative, which requires voters be told the cost of capital move plans and have a vote on them.
HB54 is sponsored by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Wasilla, and was approved by the House State Affairs Committee on a 4-2 vote Thursday and moved to the House Finance Committee. Coghill was among the four representatives voting in favor of the bill.
Juneau residents have long considered the FRANK Amendment protection against the move.
"I'm not against the intent of the FRANK Amendment," Coghill said. "But the reality is nine members get to decide what the cost of moving the capital is, and the opportunity is for them to run up the cost."
None of these measures is likely to get approval through both houses, Coghill said, but should be a wakeup call for the city and Southeast Alaska to consider how they are perceived elsewhere.
"Juneau is doing a good job providing access (through online and around the clock television coverage)," Coghill said. "But don't minimize the importance of citizens having face time with their government."
Juneau citizens have to realize that legislators often have to maintain family relations by long distance, which makes coming to Juneau inconvenient, if not unpleasant, he said.
"You are a government town, and government is not held in the highest regard right now," he added.
"The second thing is that people in this town sometimes forget they are part of Alaska," he said, adding that Southeast communities, including Juneau, are more vulnerable if they fail to work together on issues.
He cited the changes in the Tongass a decade ago that ultimately led to Ketchikan losing its lumber mill.
"Juneau didn't stand up for them," he said.
Coghill, who hails from North Pole, often reminded Juneau chamber members that state government is a two-way street, yet Juneau citizens seem concerned only about local issues.
"But Juneau, what do you think about North Pole?" he asked. "That question has to be asked. We are in this together.
"When the question comes up, my district says 'Anywhere but Anchorage!'" he laughed. "There is no public outcry now except for my guys from South Central.
"What is the nexus to Alaskans is that there are a lot of us out there (in smaller communities outside Anchorage), but two-thirds of our population is in South Central, and they provide services to the rest of us."
Juneau also has an image of opposing new resource development, often driven by conservation organizations, he said.
"There are those in Juneau who want to isolate you from Alaska. You have got to want to break out of that. It is seen as Juneau against Kensington."
An aging and declining population in Southeast, and especially in Juneau, works against keeping the Capital too, he said, because each new generation cares less and less about Juneau's legacy.
While none of this is pleasant for Juneau residents to hear, it's certainly a call to action to work aggressively with all of Southeast Alaska to improve our relationship with the rest of Alaska.
Lee Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire. Email him at email@example.com.