Alaska journalists uncover Juneau's past

Annie Bartholomew/Sun Star Reporter
March 26, 2013

Former representative and Alaska journalist Mike Doogan speaks about corruption in the Alaska State Legislature in the Schaible Auditorium on Thursday, March 21, 2012 with journalism professor Lynne Lott and Alaska journalist Dermot Cole. Annie Bartholomew/Sun Star

Former representative and Alaska journalist Mike Doogan speaks about corruption in the Alaska State Legislature in the Schaible Auditorium on Thursday, March 21, 2012 with journalism professor Lynne Lott and Alaska journalist Dermot Cole. Annie Bartholomew/Sun Star

Last Thursday night, three Alaskan journalists addressed a crowd of students and legislators, unafraid take on hot topics and name names in the process. Mike Carey, Dermot Cole and former representative Mike Doogan made up the panel titled “Juneau Journalism: One Hundred years of News the Copper Kings to the ‘Corrupt Bastards’” at Schaible Auditorium on Mar. 21.

UAF History Professor Terrence Cole helped select the three speakers after the legislature created an “Alaskan centennial commission” to celebrate 100 years of the Alaska State Legislature. “These three reporters are our first choice because in some ways they are very different and in other ways very similar,” Terrence Cole said, who had been planning the event with faculty and student volunteers since January.

The panel began with each reporter sharing their personal experiences reporting on the Legislature. Carey began the night recalling his father’s outbursts at the “comedians in Juneau,” after reading the paper, and the power the press had to inform and alert its constituency.

Doogan examined the changing ideologies of Alaskans since he began his career in Juneau as a legislative aide. Doogan described the transition as, “a big place where everybody knew each other to a place where nobody knew anybody.”

The audience jeered and encouraged critical analysis of the Legislature while Journalism Professor Lynne Lott squeezed in audience submitted questions. At 8:30p.m. Lott asked the audience if they would like to proceed with impromptu questions, or continue the discussion of corruption in the Legislature. The audience overwhelming supported continuing the discussion, and the panel delved into the mid-2000s VECO Corp. scandal that put elected officials and businessmen in jail for bribery.

Doogan told the story of sneaking into VECO CEO Bill Allen’s Baranoff hotel suite to get a story while reporting on the Legislator.

Dermot Cole, who began his career as at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ student newspaper the Polar Star said there is a need for an ombudsman role in the state government which has traditionally been the responsibility of the Juneau press.

“I just think there ought to be some independent reporter examination of this whole VECO and Bill Allen event which disrupted the state’s politics for several year,” Dermot Cole said.  “The state has basically been silent on the topic and uninvolved, so it shouldn’t just be left to the justice department and it’s what it amounted to a failed investigation to have the final word on that.”

The panelists were interrupted by former Speaker of the House Gail Phillips, who could not let the topic of corruption in the current Legislature become a central point of discussion.

“When you study the history of the Alaska Legislature from the last 100 years you’ll see that there’s massive corruption scandals throughout that history and I wanted to make sure people understood the whole legislature is not corrupt,” Phillips said after the event. “The Legislature itself is a group of 60 people who for the most part are there to do as good as they can for Alaska. 58 of 60 people are there for the right reason and there’s always one or two people.”

Phillips said she could count on one hand, the number of officials who should not have served  because of ethical reasons during her ten years in the House. “I just wanted to make sure people understood tonight the only corruption in the legislature wasn’t what the current people knew about, that’s been going on forever.”

Most of the audience stayed for the full two hours and afterward, many attendees stayed  after to greet old friends from Juneau. Audience members included former Rep. and current Chancellor Brian Rogers and Katie Hurley, who served as chief clerk at the Alaska Constitutional Convention.

“I hope the students really appreciate this because it’s so wonderful to have the time to rub shoulders with people who really made our history,” Terrence Cole said.

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