Alaskans have a duty to examine the question of rewriting the constitution every ten years. However, voters have never approved opening up the whole constitution after it was first crafted in 1956 and laid the legal foundation for what was to become the State of Alaska in 1959.
There are some in Alaska who wish to modify portions of the constitution largely to rearrange the social fabric of Alaska and to one degree or another, but all scenarios where we hold a convention and rework our laws come with challenges intended and not intended.
If we vote to hold a Constitutional Convention, the result will be confusion, debate, and amplification of societal divisions. Delegates are to be elected, which will likely result in incumbent lawmakers who know well how to run in elections forming the majority of the delegates. We will then have the same folks who can't agree on an annual budget or who to name as Speaker of the House, in charge of rewriting potentially the entire state constitution. Any estimate on time-frames for this Convention had best be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled. The same goes for the cost estimate just to hold the Convention.
A Constitutional Convention in Alaska will be a battleground for national politics. High-profile politicians from around the country will weigh in. Money from nationwide groups will pour in to help sow confusion, tip the scales, distract and divide Alaskans. Koch Brothers will pour money in. National Right to Life groups will pour money in. Religious Education groups will pour money in. The national sport-fish lobby will pour money in. Global mining and oil and gas will pour money in. Local non-profit groups will battle one another on social media and public forums. Neighbors, already believing that Civil War is imminent and that the political system is rigged, will have even more reason to stay away from the neighborhood barbecue.
The battle over the foundational document for our legal system in Alaska will be as ugly as anything we have seen in our political lives. In the end, millions will be spent lobbying delegates. The state will incur tens of millions of dollars in legal costs associated with holding and defending the Convention and rewriting all of the statutes that will be altered or invalidated by the changed constitutional language.
After years of acrimony, division, debate, and influence by outside lobby, the outcome could be a constitution that changes fundamental protections for land and water. For instance - Article 8 of the constitution states that:
“The legislature shall provide for the utilization, development, and conservation of all natural resources belonging to the State, including land and waters, for the maximum benefit of its people. Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use.”
A few tweaks to the language and private companies that impact salmon habitat, and increase climate change could end up with greater rights than Alaskans. Decision makers could abolish the Judicial Council and our state judiciary's independence paving the way for measures that could erode our democracy. You can bet that attorneys for the delegates will insert numerous poison pills throughout the constitution whose impact will not be known when the new document is ratified.
Alaskans have enough on their plate fighting climate change, protecting our democracy, our salmon runs, and the health of our communities. A big, expensive and divisive battle to rewrite the very foundation of our state's laws is not wise. Recall again that when the constitution was initially written, it was by a group of individuals fighting for statehood. At the end of the day, they were aligned around a common purpose. A convention today lacks that spirit entirely and would be good for fanning the flames of division but bad for Alaska.
Vote No on One,
The Alaska Center
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