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Location, location, location.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has decided to locate a second special legislative session in his hometown of Wasilla.
Alaska lawmakers ended their first special session of the year Thursday in Juneau. That session followed a regular 121-day session, also in the capital.
The legislators will reconvene July 8 at a middle school in Southcentral Alaska, following a few weeks off that culminates with Fourth of July celebrations around the state.
The break will be a brief reprieve from heavy legislative matters for some. Others, who represent both the House and the Senate, will try to come up with a way forward on the main issue to be discussed during the second session — the amount to be distributed in the 2019 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend payouts.
Dunleavy believes the break will give lawmakers an opportunity to refocus, preferably to his way of thinking about the 2019 dividend.
Dunleavy favors a $3,000 dividend this fall, which represents the PFD amount calculated using the traditional formula in state law. It’s what he promised during the gubernatorial campaign. His other promise of back payments to make up for reduced distributions in the past three years hasn’t gained traction this year as he’s not focused on it like he has the $3,000.
The conflict is created by the presence of a state operating budget deficit. Some see a lower dividend as a way to continue some state services and programs while reducing the deficit.
Dunleavy has stood firm on the $3,000 dividend.
Perhaps by moving the discussion to Wasilla — in the midst of the Alaskans who have supported his political career — he’s expecting legislative cooperation unseen to date on the issue.
But while Wasilla will have a front row seat, many Alaskans accustomed to tuning in or calling in for session business are less likely to gain access.
The school isn’t set up for Gavel to Gavel, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency. Gavel to Gavel provides the opportunity for Alaskans to tune in to sessions and committee meetings. Nor is the school equipped for Alaskans to teleconference into meetings.
The location also has poor cell and internet service, according to the LAA.
Not only does that situation limit wide access for Alaskans, but it inhibits quality recordings for historical purposes.
The problem isn’t Wasilla specific. Four years ago when a special session occurred in Anchorage, similar challenges resulted in less access and poor recordings.
Juneau is the capital and it is equipped for all Alaskans to view and participate. Sessions outside Juneau isolate lawmakers and limit Alaskans’ access.
Plus, lawmakers will follow the direction they receive from their constituents whether they are in Juneau, Wasilla or some other place. That’s their job — to represent their constituents.
It will take more than a change of locale for a sufficient number of lawmakers to agree with the governor. If location was the deciding factor on any specific topic, the Legislature would be meeting every other week in different cities, towns and villages throughout the state.
The three-week break between sessions likely will be appreciated by lawmakers with a desire to take the holiday. But changing session locales is inconvenient for Alaska constituents outside Wasilla.
The Legislature should be meeting in its home, not the governor’s.