Discover the Fascinating History Behind Why Juneau is the Capital of Alaska
Rosemary Dunn, a viewer from Anchorage, posed a question regarding Juneau being chosen as state capital, despite it being difficult to access for the residents of Alaska. This led to the inquiry regarding the reasons for Juneau continuing to be the capital. The answer lies in the fact that in 1906, when Juneau was chosen as the capital, Anchorage was not yet established, and Fairbanks was a far-off settlement. Juneau, on the other hand, had a flourishing mining industry and was just a steamer trip away from Seattle, making it an ideal location. Furthermore, it was not significantly further up the Panhandle from Sitka, which was the capital chosen earlier by the Russian masters.
It is important to note that the capital has shifted from Sitka to Juneau in the past and that the city's leaders have no intentions of relocating it. We spoke with Bruce Botelho, who has been elected mayor four times and served as attorney general under two governors, and Mark Neuman, a legislator from Big Lake first elected in 2004 who has followed the capital move ideas since 1982.
Since becoming a state in 1959, Alaska has had ten ballot initiatives regarding the capital move, with one in 1960 and another in 1974 proposing a move to Willow. Both were rejected, with the latter due to the astronomical construction and relocation expenses amounting to $2.8 billion. Some subsequent measures proposed relocating only a part of the capital, including a bill in 2008 by Rep. Carl Gatto, which wanted a special legislative session to be held only on the road system. Although this bill never had a hearing, some recent special sessions were held in Anchorage despite this proposal.
For Neuman, a more centrally located legislature would lead to considerable savings for the state and attract new talent. People generally speak of shifting the capital, when in reality, they mean relocating the Alaska Legislature, which would provide easier access for Alaskans to their Legislature. Botelho added that few individuals actually express their views by driving to the capital, which is situated on the West Coast, similar to all other capital cities of the Western states. He cited minimal attendance for committee hearings or floor action at the recent special sessions held in Anchorage, with only a few people attending, and most of them having already shown up in Juneau.
Juneau has made considerable efforts to make it easier for people to communicate with the Legislature. Botelho proudly stated that the city has served responsibly as a host city, ensuring that the government is responsive to people throughout Alaska, regardless of their place of dwelling. Various initiatives, including promoting Gavel to Gavel and live streaming of committee meetings, have been introduced, along with investment in infrastructure for state government over the years.
Neuman's vision for the future includes a complex plan that merges a Legislature move with his personal mission to build a bridge spanning Knik Arm. This visionary idea may or may not come to fruition, but Neuman envisions a world in which people can easily travel to and from Anchorage. By flying into Anchorage, driving across the bridge, and accomplishing their business, individuals can easily testify for the day and return home the same night. Currently, if one needs to do this, they must fly to Anchorage and potentially spend the night if they are coming from remote Alaska. Catching a flight in and out of Juneau can be a challenge and hotels in the area can easily cost upwards of $250 to $300 per night. Even with a lower constituent fare and with prices being almost or 0 return trip, the costs can still be too high for many Alaskans.
For Botelho, Juneau holds a special place in his heart. He admires the strong sense of community engagement in the area, including the presence of a flourishing arts community. He applauds the sophistication that highly educated state employees and managers bring to the civic culture in the area, making it one of the most affluent places in the country to reside.
While some may be deterred by the weather in Juneau, Botelho believes that the rain produces a luscious rainforest, brimming with flora and fauna that brings unparalleled benefits to the area.
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