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Bill Mann

Bill Mann

Posted: October 4, 2009 12:30 PM

With Palin and Media Gone, Juneau Returns to Its 'Blue-State' Normal State

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It's not often I find myself in Juneau, Alaska. This was the first time, in fact. When I saw a city-limits sign, I was tempted to spray-paint "Now Palin-Free," but, being well past prime tagging age, I demurred.

Juneau seems so quiet now. But a year ago, it was a media hot spot, albeit one of the most unlikely ones imaginable.

"You should have seen Juneau a year ago," a reporter from the local ABC-TV affiliate, KJUD-TV, told me when I dropped by the station recently.

"It was nuts. The governor's mansion was surrounded by ENG (satellite) vans, and reporters were all over town. I couldn't get into my favorite restaurant and coffee shop. It was stupid crowded here."

This scenic, remote southeast Alaska town, the only state capital inaccessible by car, is not that big -- 30,000 souls. I had no idea what it would look like, just that Palin lived here (for awhile). Would the stench linger?

Not really. Juneau is lovely, with waterfalls cascading from steep green cliffs looming just above downtown. (They reminded me a lot of the verdant Ko'olau Mountains on windward -- and much warmer -- Oahu).

Juneau is quiet and laid back again, the norm. It doesn't seem like a government town, either; like, for example, Salem, Oregon. More of a cruise-ship town, given the row of mostly schlocky gift shops downtown. There are still a few Palin souvenirs in shop windows, but fortunately, not that many.

It was hard to believe that barely over a year ago, when Alaska's then-Gov. Palin was named John McCain's Hail Mary running mate, hundreds of media types would schlep all the way up here. It's the furthest north I've ever traveled, and trust me, it's remote.

The former House of Palin, the Alaska Governor's Mansion, is a lovely white semi-mansion, incongruously (given security concerns today) tucked into a residential neighborhood. It looks respectable and unremarkable, save for a totem pole on the back wall.

What was weird was the adjacent Alaska state capitol, which I couldn't remember from all the live TV shots. Now I know why.

I figured that with Alaska's gold-rush, Jack London-esque history, the state capitol would feature a bright gold dome. No gold, and no dome.

This is the most unprepossessing state capitol you'll ever see. It's built of industrial-looking yellowish brick, six stories high and is totally nondescript. How nondescript? It could easily pass for a public-utility office.

"Sarah Palin never did fit in here," said my local contact and guide, a bright young woman I'd asked about the town's former media celebrity. "Juneau's like Austin. It's the 'blue' part of Alaska," explained the young woman, a government worker. "We have quite a few artists in Juneau." The state's one sizeable city, distant Anchorage, I figured, would be more urban and thus, "bluer."

"Anchorage is pretty conservative," the 20-ish Juneau woman said, "and this is a very red state. Juneau's the liberal enclave in Alaska."

And with Palin gone to the rubber-chicken and book-flogging circuits, it's even bluer. But once again, Juneau is a media backwater.


 

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