Commentary

L(ovely) I(-catching) Office

Anyone living anywhere near Alaska’s largest city should be all in with the state’s $32.5 million, proposed purchase of the L-Eye-Oh, officially the  Legislative Information Office, in downtown Anchorage.

It’s a small price to pay to house Alaska legislators in a building they hate for reasons that can only make sensible Alaskans smile.

Forget that the local newspaper mocks the structure as the “Taj Mahawker” in an apparent attempt to denigrate its biggest backer, Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage. In the first place, it’s a ludicrous to suggest any sort of Taj Ma-anything would be bad for Anchorage. The Taj Mahal, a world heritage site, is the top tourist draw in India.

Given the state of the Alaska economy, we could use a building that attracts 7 to 8 million tourists per year. Just think, if we could get them up here and charge them a reasonable $25 per head to enter and walk around the place, we’d bring in about as much revenue as Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed and beloved  income tax.

Then again, the newspaper’s pokes at Hawker aren’t about the building. They’re about a grudge. Hawker once tried to stop the state from wasting money printing “public notices” in newspapers people no longer read, suggesting the state instead post those notices online so they would never be further away than your smart phone, computer or other electronic device.

The newspaper has never forgotten. It would like to bury Hawker and on his gravestone write “Here lies the bastard who tried to kill public notices in your newspaper!”

As if you somehow own a piece of a newspaper which really only wants public notices because they are about all that’s left in the classified section, and a business bleeding money needs the cash they bring in.

Needless to say, the newspaper doesn’t much like Hawker, but a lot of his legislative colleagues like him even less. Why?

It’s about the building.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a glass house.

Architecturally (Opinion warning! Opinion warning!), it’s the prettiest glass house in the city. A fan of Bahaus design might well argue it’s the most attractive building in downtown Anchorage, which is somewhat short of attractive buildings.

But who cares (other than this country’s appearance-obsessed society) about looks. What matters here is transparency.

And the LIO is all about transparency.

You — Joe Citizen and Jane Voter — can see in. Even worse, legislators can not only see out, they can hear out. Apparently the walls of the building aren’t all that well insulated as legislators found out when a special session  was held in Anchorage last spring.

The special session attracted protesters, and horror of horrors, a legislature trying to engage in deep and meaningful debate (do they ever engage in any other kind?) could hear the people surrounding the building. To listen to some of the legislators tell it, they were made to feel a little like Lt. Col. George A. Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Suffice to say, it was a far different experience from being holed up in Fortress Juneau, the state Capital City with no road in, no road out, and fewer than 34,000 residents — most of whom are more interested in fishing than in politics.

All politicians have to listen to in Juneau is each other and lobbyists. Meeting in the LIO with its thin glass walls, they had to listen to the people whether they wanted to or not. And this is a good thing, because as Pat Average Citizen, it’s all you got.

The system is stacked. Money has a bigger vote. As a politician turned newspaper columnist put it the other day, “Yes I was influenced by campaign money.” Whose money convinced him to make that rather bizarre confession as to lack of ethical spine, one can only guess.

But at least he got the reality out there. In a capitalist society, money can buy almost anything. At the end of the day, all Pat Citizen has is the power to whine, to scream, to shout and to get lots of fellow Pat Citizens to join in.

This power is not to be underestimated. If the power “influenced by campaign money” held ultimate control, this country would be a still-segregated nation fighting a war in Southeast Asia. It isn’t because the little people can, en masse, make enough noise to move the needle.

The Founding Fathers of this country understood. They didn’t write a constitution requiring people vote. They wrote a constitution providing every citizen the opportunity to  protect democracy by speaking out. The very First Amendment was written to encourage dissent, not complacency:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The Founding Fathers didn’t want a system that elected a ruling elite and hid them away somewhere to do “the people’s business” as they saw fit. The Founding Fathers wanted the people involved. They wanted a chaotic government regularly functioning just short of anarchy, because that is where democracy lives and thrives.

If someone had told Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and some others that it was possible to build a glass house, the U.S. Congress would today be meeting in a glass house. Putting legislators from the city that dominates politics in Alaska in a glass house might be one of the better things that ever happened to this state.

And if not, occasionally convening meetings in that glass house where legislators from around the state cannot avoid the complaints of an unhappy citizenry, most definitely is the best thing that ever happened to this state.

That legislators who  prefer someone come by every day to stroke their egos don’t like meeting in the Taj Mahawker because they can see and hear people interested in doing just the opposite arguably makes the LIO the best government building ever constructed in this state.

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1 reply »

  1. Do cats prefer goldfish in glass fish bowls, where they can see the fish? Or on the floor, where they can bat the fish around and eat them? The answer is obvious. Same thing with Alaskans, it would be much better to be able to push, punch and yell at legislators than watch them in a glass house.

    So, option B: Place bleachers in the lobby of the Atwood building. Put open bleachers on each side of a three foot walkway, making a long and narrow gauntlet that lawmakers have to walk when they are coming or going to the elevator. Allow the first row for free access to Alaskans, that want to heckle and harass law makers. Rows 2 through N will be reserved for paying tourists ($25 admission) to watch the show. This option would eliminate the need to spend $32 million (plus the yearly costs for utilities, maintenance, insurance and financing) for a glass house. It would cut current LIO office space costs by 75%. Plus you would get tourist revenue, that would probably equal the proposed income tax.

    Like

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