To The Max

Linda Burton and grandson Samuel Shumate, age 9, posting from Juneau, Alaska – “Reporting live from Juneau, Alaska,” is the sound I hear coming from just outside the door. It’s grandson Sam, now a Steven Spielberg wannabe. Yesterday I showed him the Nikon’s video capabilities; today he’s into Point of View, recording everything in sight “as he sees it.” Right now he’s filming Mt Juneau, the front of our building, and every raven flying overhead. I decide we’ll use this force for good today. “Hey Sam,” I call enthusiastically, “let’s go downtown and find the capitol. You can make a video.” And so, enthusiastically, we start walking. Seven blocks or so, along the waterfront and up the hill; thumbs up at last; we made it to the door. The Tour Sign at the front invites us in; an arrow points us to the information spot; a young man greets us with a friendly smile. “The next tour in 10 minutes,” he said. Enough time for some post-hillclimb rest; then here is Max, his bright red vest sporting the Tour Guide badge. “We’ll begin in the lobby,” he said. “I’ll start with the basics.” The crowd gathered; Sam’s finger was poised on the video button.

This six-story building was named the Federal and Territorial Building when it opened in 1931. It once housed a federal courthouse and a post office; it served as the Territorial Capitol until statehood in 1959 when it became the Alaska State Capitol. Today it contains the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the State Legislature. Made of brick-faced reinforced concrete, sporting no dome, and lacking a large area of landscaped grounds, you might mistake this capitol for an ordinary office building. But Max points out the finer touches; the brilliantly-colored hand-stenciled ceiling (original); the Tokeen marble columns on the portico; the Indiana limestone on the lower floors. Gold trim abounds, Alaska is, after all, a wee bit famous for its gold-mining heritage. Max points to the gold embellished symbols extending around the room at ceiling height – an igloo, a whale, a tree, and the mining pick and shovel. “This was an artist’s mistake,” he explained, “two of these are wrong as a representation of Alaska.”

Ears perked up at that remark – which two? “Alaskans don’t live in igloos,” Max explained, “that’s a misconception. And though whales abound in Alaska, the whaling industry had ended by the time this building was built. The other two symbols correctly depict our timber and mining industries.” Max took us to the fifth floor next; a large meeting room outfitted with high-tech equipment; electronic communications can take place from far and near around the state. We wend our way down, floor by floor; the House and Senate chambers; the Governor’s Office; the wall of portraits of former territorial and state governors. The eleven photographs on the governor’s wall had an uneven row. “I see they’ve left room for the next one,” Sam commented to Max.

The Alaska constitution allows governors to serve multiple-terms – they may succeed themselves once, but they have to wait four years after their second term in a row before they can run again. The lieutenant governor takes over should the governor’s office become vacant, as it did in 2009 when Sarah Palin resigned. Nine people have served as governor of the State of Alaska over 11 distinct terms. William Egan and Wally Hickel were elected to multiple non-consecutive terms; Hickel also is noted for a rare third party win, having been elected in 1990 in the Alaskan Independence Party. Egan was elected three times and served nearly 12 years. The current governor is Sean Parnell, who took office when Palin resigned, but was elected to a full term in 2010.

Sam has been busy recording what he sees; we’re back in the lobby now; our tour is coming to an end. Max and Sam have reached buddy status by this point, chatting about the capital cities, chatting about Juneau, chatting about everything there is to see and do in this town where he lives. “Any more questions?” Max finally asked. Sam took this as a cue. “Yes. Can I interview you now?” Reporting live from Juneau, Alaska.