PUBLISHED: 3:53 PM on Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Time to reward visiting constituents?
It struck me while getting a parking ticket validated outside a Honolulu restaurant at New Year's.

Having to pay for parking might discourage diners. So the eatery was taking away that objection. "Come see us and we'll cover the parking."

Nothing new in that. It makes sense. Rewarding customers for going the extra mile to visit your business is pretty basic business practice.

What struck me is the same model might answer many of the objections that are being used to justify a possible move of the state's Capital from Juneau.

If it needs to be easier for constituents to reach their elected officials, and they really want to come see them face-to-face, let's make it easy.

Here's how it might work.

Local businesses, possibly under direction of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, create a program of rebates for citizens from the rest of the state who choose to visit Juneau and their elected officials during the Legislative session.

Alaska Air already provides discounted constituent fares during the session to Juneau from the Alaska cities. This is the same concept on steroids.

Maybe there's a drawing for the first 500 voters to visit Juneau each session to get a free ride. Or a visitor turns in their hotel expenses for reimbursement from the Juneau Visiting Constituents Fund. Maybe it could be a package of constituent discounts too, on everything from meals and lodging. Or maybe the visiting constituent gets other incentives from Juneau business, whether it be on purchases during their visit, or for free visits in the future, during the rest of the year.

We do a darn fine job of attracting visitors from the rest of the world-why can't we do the same to attract our fellow Alaskans?

I'm always surprised at the number of Alaskans from other parts of the state who don't visit Juneau, or for that matter the rest of the state. That applies just as much to Fairbanks and Kenai and Kotzebue as it does Juneau.

It could even be fun. Imagine promoting the idea of Love Your Rep Day. Or Get Air Miles for visiting your Senator.

We promote getting out to vote....why promote get out to see your elected official face- to-face?

Of course, if this works, the legislators will have another problem-too many constituents to talk to, in too little time.

The consensus is that the new shorter 90-day session has pretty well eliminated spare time for the elected to meet with visiting constituents, lobbyists, even each other. That's even with many sessions nights and weekends.

So more voters actually showing up and wanting face time are going to demand a longer session, regardless of where it is.

A pretty off the wall idea? Maybe.

But as with most issues, there's usually more than one route to a solution. And there's got to be some out-of-the-box thinking to solve such an important debate.

It would be a put-up-or-shut-up challenge for Juneau and for those in the rest of the state who won't get off this band wagon. If their constituents won't take a free ride to their state Capital, it's a pretty sure thing they won't do it even it it's in their own home town.

Or we might just find that all the justifications, about getting trying to retain face-to-face government in a digital world, are just as off the wall.

Lee Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire. Email him at