Columns 2007

Build a dome for Alaska’s legislature

I took a train trip recently that was supposed to last twelve hours.  About fourteen hours into the trip, with no sight of a conductor to tell me what was happening and no chance to jump off and rethink the whole train trip idea because we were stopped somewhere in the middle of a nameless woods, my mind started to wander.  This is never a good thing.  Perhaps it was something I did in the sixties. Who remembers? Whatever it was, when my mind cuts loose from its moorings in reality and starts to wander hither, thither and yon, the result is always a bit startling to me.

In this case my mind wandered down the path of the capitol move.  I’ve lived in Alaska long enough to have voted with some frequency on moving the capitol. I’ve lived in Alaska long enough to see that vote always come out in favor of a move that never happens. In fact, after the counting is done and the results announced, the whole idea is dropped faster than Paris Hilton’s determination to do good works for those she left behind.

And so, since these are the long lovely days of summer when legislators are out meeting and greeting the people they purport to represent, and the governor is out saving milk, and the lobbyists are out on their boats counting their subpoenas, I think it is a great time to put forth my idea for the capitol move.

Way back when the state was flush with oil money, part of the idea for a new capitol entailed building a big dome in which to put it.  This idea was viewed as somewhat goofy and went nowhere.  I think it’s time we revisit it.

One of the things Alaskans have learned over the years is that our legislature is no better and no worse than most of corporate America in that its work will expand to fill the time allotted.  Give it 90 days to do its job and it will take ninety. Give it 120 days and that same amount of work will fill 120 days.  It’s the nature of the beast.

So the problem, as I see it, is how do we provide our legislators with the incentive to finish their work and get the heck out of town before they screw up our lives anymore than they have to?  Here’s my solution…drum roll please.

We move the capitol to someplace slightly north of the Brooks Range and build that dome.  Then we pass a law that says that only legislators may enter this dome. Cell phones, computers, hand signals and all other forms of outside communication are forbidden.  So are legislative staffers, lobbyists and anyone from the state’s administrative arm. 

The start of the session would be in Anchorage. Legislators would be required to file all bills they wanted passed that session within the first week so that everyone had lots of time to look at them and decide their merit. Constituents, consultants, lobbyists, Munchkins and Muggles would have as much access as they wanted to give their views and opinions on the bills. Staffers could work their little butts off digging up all the needed info on the pluses and minuses of any given proposal.

Then, after one month of this fun and frolic, the legislators would be brought to their dome and sequestered there until they finished the people’s business. They would be fed three basic meals a day (in honor of that $15 limit), given a double room to share with one of their colleagues, and allowed one hour of TV per night that was not news or anything purporting to be news.  The only excuse for breeching their isolation would be the end of time or the signing of a contract to actually build a gas pipeline…which, if you think about it, is probably a sign of the end of time.

This method, thought up in the depths of the woods of North Carolina by a fevered mind entering the 14th hour of a 12 hour trip, would save the sorry spectacle of trees dying to provide paperwork for subpoenas and indictments of our legislators and their lobbying cohorts. Votes taken on issues would actually be the position of the legislator and not the vote of someone on a cell phone in the peanut gallery. A closed circuit TV camera would record all this for Alaskans actually able to stay awake and watch this body’s august deliberations. 

And all those unused gifts, luncheons and other incentives usually provided to legislators by lobbyists could be given to me as a thank you for coming up with this brilliant plan.  Yep, this is just a win-win situation no matter how you look at it.