News-Miner opinion: Gov. Mike Dunleavy wants the Legislature to hold its special session in a middle school in Wasilla rather than in Juneau. That’s what he directed in his proclamation earlier this month.
That simply is not in the best interest of Alaskans, especially when the single subject of the special session is something of such high interest as the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.
Why is this not in the best interest of Alaskans?
Because the session, which is scheduled to start July 8, won’t be broadcast on statewide public television.
Legislative activity for many, many years now has been broadcast statewide on television and the internet through “Gavel Alaska” by public television station KTOO in Juneau and with the financial support of the City and Borough of Juneau and private-sector businesses and organizations. The service provides unedited live and tape-delayed coverage of the state government. Every committee room of the Capitol is wired for broadcasting, paid for by “Gavel Alaska.”
Alaskans can watch their senators and representatives work via "Gavel Alaska." The governor himself holds news conferences and media sessions that are broadcast on “Gavel Alaska.” And the recordings are archived for easy public access.
“Gavel Alaska” is an essential service in a state as large as ours and with so many communities off the road system.
That vital service won’t be available if the special session is held in Wasilla. Many Alaskans will be cut off from the words and actions of their elected officials.
The argument for holding a legislative session outside of Juneau is an old one — and it’s just as flawed now as it has been for years. Those like the governor who favor holding the special session outside of Juneau say doing so will increase accessibility for Alaskans who live on the road system. Yes, residents of the road system will be able to be physically present if the session is held at Wasilla Middle School, but they will do so at the expense of their fellow Alaskans who live off the road system and of those who live on the road system but cannot get to Wasilla.
Alaskans can glean a little about the governor’s intent by a close reading of his words when he called the special session on June 13. The governor’s statement reads, in part, “At this point, a change in venue is necessary to refocus the conversation and remind lawmakers about the people and their PFD.”
So who will be “reminding lawmakers about the people and their PFD”? Most likely supporters of the full $3,000 dividend that the governor insists upon but that Alaska clearly cannot afford.
Holding the session in Wasilla is no more than an attempt to provide easy access for those who want to try to intimidate legislators who believe it would be fiscally irresponsible to provide a $3,000 dividend.
The Legislature’s leaders recognize this and have rejected the idea of meeting in Wasilla. They instead are trying to have the Legislature assemble in Juneau, where all Alaskans can have access through electronic means.
Did the 55 delegates who gathered in Fairbanks in the late 1950s intend that the capital be the place of all legislative sessions? The proceedings and documents don’t indicate one way or the other. There’s simply no mention. And that most likely is because the delegates’ discussions about locating the capital in Juneau didn’t contemplate that legislators would meet in full anywhere else.
There is one reference, from delegate Ralph J. Rivers, of Fairbanks, during the convention’s discussion of legislative special sessions on Jan. 10, 1956. The vigorous debate was regarding the length of special sessions, and during it Mr. Rivers made a remark that included a mention of legislators being brought to the capital for such sessions.
“I don’t believe in saying that when you only have a 30-day extraordinary session and you go to all the expense of bringing your legislators together and taking them to your capital, that they should be prevented from exercising their full legislative powers,” he said.
That’s right. He said of a special session: “... bringing your legislators together and taking them to your capital.”
No other delegate spoke up to say that a special session could be held someplace other than the capital.
Alaskans will be best served by holding the special session in Juneau.