I realize it’s only Day 1 of my off-season hiatus so I’ll poke my head up only briefly before hibernating again. I want to make sure 12MC readers are aware of a recent comment posted by John Deeth of Iowa. Comments tend to get lost in the shuffle because they don’t appear in newsreaders and doubly so at this time of year. This one is simply too great to have it fall through the cracks, though. Inquiring minds will definitely want to know.
Iowa counties I’ve visited are shaded — Definitely not a Full Grassley.
John Deeth says:
Greetings from the land of the caucuses. Regular readers may enjoy:
It’s a point of bragging rights in Iowa politics, state or presidential, to visit all 99 counties. Rick Santorum has done it; Michele Bachmann is on a tour to complete what politicos call “the full Grassley” (after the Senator who visits all 99 each year).
So when Register reporter Jennifer Jacobs asked: “How exactly can presidential candidates get through all 99 counties in Iowa in the quickest amount of time on the shortest path?” I thought immediately of 12MC. Here’s the answer:
The map provided at the link is pure convoluted goodness. I’m not sure I would have appreciated the Full Grassley until I understood the term better (it sounds suspiciously like the Full Monty). However, once explained, I’m ready for an Iowa road trip for the Full Grassley treatment.
Many months ago I explored the Worst State Capital Locations and received a number of thoughtful and insightful comments. I examined conditions from various perspectives including the most inconveniently located state capital for an individual traveling from the largest city. Juneau, Alaska won that part of the competition hands-down; residents from Anchorage face a daunting 850 mile road trip including a leg through Canada plus a ferry ride. Realistically, most people fly.
One comment mentioned Willow, Alaska, a small town north of Anchorage. Occasionally I receive search engine visitors seeking information about Willow that I can trace directly to that comment. One of them recently concerned a housing subdivision that was created in anticipation of the state capital moving to Willow, which of course never happened.
I’m not sure what the anonymous visitor hoped to uncover but it sounded like an interesting question. Ultimately I couldn’t find the subdivision, or at least nothing that fit a Lower 48 definition of one, but I did learn more about the situation in Willow. Land values boomed, speculators planned for a huge influx of new residents, and then the bubble burst.
How close did Willow come to becoming the new state capital of Alaska? Surprisingly close. Had events gone just slightly differently, this rural stretch of the George Parks Highway (which I drove last summer on the way to Talkeetna) would have become a bustling city by now.
Juneau made a lot of sense as the capital of Alaska at the turn of the last century, and several decades before statehood. Much of the population clustered along the southeastern coast. Ships were the dominant form of long-distance transportation. Juneau was a logical choice. The population center shifted considerably over the next century towards Anchorage and a swath of territory up through the Matanuska-Susitna Valley (home of 12MC’s secret admirer) to Fairbanks, all connected by highway eventually. Consider the latest population figures from the 2010 Census:
Anchorage: 292k (374k in metro area)
Fairbanks: 35K (100k in metro area)
Nearly half of all Alaskans live in the Anchorage metropolitan area.
This isn’t a recent trend. A snowball effect started with the advent of oil exploration and extraction since statehood. Alaska’s population continues to grow at double-digit rates each decade. Juneau, perched on a narrow shelf between steep coastal mountains and the Gastineau Channel has little room to expand. Anchorage can continue to expand practically forever.
Those basic circumstances underlie proponent’s efforts to move the state capital. The issue has come up repeatedly. I’ve compiled a brief chronology from the University of Alaska and several others sources I examined:
1974 – Alaska voters approved an initiative to move the capital from Juneau (after defeated initiatives in 1960 and 1962).
1976 – They decided that the capital would move to Willow.
1982 – However, Alaska voters subsequently repealed the initiative and denied funding for the move.
1994 – Proponents tried again but voters defeated the proposal.
2002 – They then tried to move the Legislature. Juneau would remain the capital (home of the executive branch). That failed too.
2011 – The effort seems to have lost much of its momentum.
The final development I found — another attempt to move the Legislature — was recorded in a January 2011 article in the Anchorage Daily News.
Few issues have burned hotter since statehood than whether the capital should be moved from Juneau closer to Alaska’s population center. It’s about power, access and, to hear some tell it, the very survival of Juneau. But the debate has faded from the fore in recent years, and the instant death of the latest proposal is a sign lawmakers just don’t care that much at this point.
But why Willow? That question can probably be framed more appropriately as "why not Anchorage?" It’s the center of population and it’s an economic engine. However, many Alaskans view "Los Anchorage" differently than "real" Alaska. Moving the capital to Anchorage would elevate the importance of Anchorage to an even greater level, to the perceived detriment of everyone else.
Willow seemed to have been selected by default. The proposed capital would have to be close to Anchorage but not too close. Selecting something in the direction of Fairbanks could generate additional votes. However, make no mistake, Willow is much closer to Anchorage than to Fairbanks.
Very little infrastructure existed in Willow at the time and little more exists there today. A capital city would have to rise from the muskeg like an Alaskan version of Brasília. It would also crash the economy of Juneau which depends heavily on government spending. Cost estimates varied depending on point of view but they seemed to float to about two or three billion dollars in modern values.
Voters decided that Willow would become the capital. That’s how close it came. It would have happened if only the price tag had not become a political issue and a cause to reconsider.
I’ve been meaning to fill you in on the results of a referendum I mentioned a few weeks ago. Approval would have moved the Benton Co., Washington county seat to from Prosser to Kennewick.
The vote happened more than a week ago. Only now do I feel there’s enough certainty to announce a probable result. It would be an understatement to say that there have been some interesting twists along the way.
I guess it was Thursday after the election when I remembered to check this so I could report back to you. Fortunately the diligent visitors on the Twelve Mile Circle have my back. A comment was already waiting in the moderation queue from faithful reader Benjamin Lukoff. He’d already done all the dirty work for me and even posted a link to an article in the Seattle Times. I was able to use that to find the source article in the Tri-City Herald. The headline gave it away: "Benton Co. seat move fails to gain supermajority."
The measure requires at least 60 percent — a supermajority — to succeed, and the unofficial count was 56 percent supporting the move, with 44 percent opposed… Fred Staples, the retired county superior court judge who gathered 23,600 petition signatures to force the county seat question to the ballot, was more than disappointed… Staples, who is 77, said he has no plans to bring the issue back.
The campaign got heated and ugly with accusations flying back-and-forth in the final days. However the voters had their final say and they’d made a decision.
Or Did They?!?
I’d put the topic aside and prepared to post an update the next evening. Meanwhile everything took an unexpected turn. A new comment waited in the queue from a supporter of the initiative. She citing a new article, County seat relocation closer to approval. The percentage of voters approving the referendum had inched upwards as the county auditor tallied additional ballots. Again, I put my keyboard aside until I could get a better understanding of the true results.
Then I heard from an opponent of the move, citing the mathematical improbability of the initiative passing even with the revised ballot count. The needle had moved slightly closer to 60% but the headline was misleading. She included a link to a pro-Prosser website, BentonCoSeat.info as a source of further information. Certainly it was written with a specific point of view but it did contain some interesting video including an election report from a local news station, which I’ve embedded below. Forward to around 9:40 for the Benton County issue.
Judge Staples doesn’t seem very happy, does he?
I decided to wait a few days to let the dust settle. Now a November 10, 2010 article notes, "Tuesday’s count showed 55.5 percent support for the measure to move the county seat from Prosser to Kennewick, with 44.5 percent opposed… The county’s election results are scheduled to be certified by the canvassing board Nov. 23." With that, I think it’s fairly safe to assume — more than a week after the vote — that the party’s finally over and the county seat won’t be moving from Prosser to Kennewick during our lifetimes.
Honestly, I have absolutely no stake in either outcome. I am but a simple observer of strange geography. This one took me for a loop.