JUNEAU, Alaska -- In the early 1960s, when Alaska was still a new state, lawmakers arrived for the legislative session along with their families, many traveling to Juneau in a caravan of cars down the gravel Alaska Highway.
The three- to four-day trek took them across Alaska's frozen interior, through Canada's icebound Yukon Territory, over a dangerous and sometimes stormy mountain pass, and down into Alaska's Southeast panhandle, where they hopped a ferry for the final leg to the nation's most inaccessible state capital.
Beth Kerttula, a child in one of those cars and now a state representative, says the session was a family affair, even though the children had to switch schools in the middle of the year and the parents had to scramble for housing in this crowded old gold-mining town.
''We decided we would never really get to know my dad if we weren't together," says Kerttula, who now lives in Juneau and whose father served 34 years in the House and Senate. ''Plus, it was a different time then. Life wasn't so frenetic."
It is now easier and cheaper to fly in to Juneau than it was back then. And the roads are a lot better. But you still can't drive all the way here. And even though today's four-month session is at least a month shorter than it used to be, the life of a part-time citizen legislator hundreds of miles from home -- in one case, 1,200 miles -- is still challenging, though sometimes in new ways.
Representative Kevin Meyer of Anchorage was able to arrange for a yearly leave of absence from his job at an oil company after he was elected six years ago. But his wife, Marty, had to quit her sales position in favor of a couple of part-time government jobs.
Their teenage daughter, Karly, has adjusted happily to her double life: two schools, two sets of friends, two soccer teams, and two homes. But keeping her happy in the family's cramped two-bedroom apartment a block from the Capitol has required some adjustments.
They gave Karly her own bedroom. Mom and 6-year-old Valentina share the other tiny bedroom. And Dad? The co-chairman of the House Finance Committee sleeps on the couch.
''I can watch TV and go through the bills that are up for tomorrow, and I don't have far to go to bed," Meyer says with a laugh.
The Meyers count themselves lucky to have found an apartment they can come back to every year. With Juneau hemmed in by mountains, forests, and waters, land and housing are at a premium in the city of 30,000. Rents range from about $825 a month for a low-end one-bedroom apartment to about $1,300 for a two-bedroom house.
Representative Mary Kapsner, a Yupik Eskimo from western Alaska, says she has had to find a new place to live every year since she was first elected in 1998. Unlike many child-free lawmakers, she refuses to settle for a Juneau motel room.
''I don't want my kids having memories of their childhood as a motel room with a calendar on the wall," says Kapsner, a mother of two, with a third on the way.