Opinions

Fairbanks man offers $1,000 reward for information leading to best constitutional argument on dividend

FAIRBANKS — Alaskans will never run short of opinions about the Permanent Fund dividend and how it fits, or not, into the Alaska Constitution.

Once in a while, these are backed up with thoughtful arguments.

With that in mind, I direct you to Article 1, Section 1, which says this about rights: "This constitution is dedicated to the principles that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the rewards of their own industry; that all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law; and that all persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the state."

It is this dual aspect of rights and obligations that prompts Fairbanksan Charles L. Parr to do what he can to keep the Alaska Constitution in the forefront when public policy is debated.

That's why he is again putting up $1,000 for an Alaska Constitution contest. If you want to gain back the $1,000 lost from the dividend veto by Gov. Bill Walker, here's your chance.

Parr, who has worked for decades on rights of way, title and land management issues in Alaska, comes to this issue with a deep background in public policy debates.

His father, Charlie Parr, was a scholar who taught Russian and German at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and later served in the state Legislature when the Permanent Fund was created in 1976. The senior Parr served as a trustee of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. from 1989 to 1991.

The contest Parr has proposed will honor the author of the best letter to the editor of an Alaska newspaper about whether the Alaska Constitution should be amended to include the Permanent Fund dividend. The deadline is Nov. 1.

The letter has to answer two questions: "Should the Permanent Fund dividend be a 'right' under the Alaska Constitution, yes or no? If yes, under which Article?"

The letter-to-the-editor format ensures that the argument will be concise.

Parr said this contest is not meant to support or bolster his point of view about the Permanent Fund dividend.

"I have my own opinion on this but that's not how it will be judged," he said. "I am looking for the most thoughtful response."

This is not a scam or a self-serving promotion on behalf of Parr, who used to be known as "young Charlie." I've dealt with him for decades and he's every bit as civic-minded as his father, who died in 2000.

Some Alaskans know that the dividend is a creation of the Legislature and it is not in the Constitution. Some think it belongs in the Constitution. Others do not.

The Permanent Fund is in the Constitution by way of a 1976 amendment to Article IX, which deals with finance and taxation.

Parr has high regard for the work done by the authors of the Alaska Constitution in 1955-56, and not just because they valued succinct and clear communication.

He had this point of view even before he worked for the state in the 1980s as a manager of real property at northern Alaska airports.

State law requires that every employee take an oath to "solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties as ____________ to the best of my ability."

He said when he asked people who worked for him whether they had read the Alaska Constitution, many said they hadn't, so he distributed copies of the document and encouraged them to know what they had promised to support and defend.

The Alaska Constitution is online and there are numerous other resources that are easily accessible for background, including 220 hours of recordings of the 1955-56 convention and the transcripts of the official proceedings.

The best single book is "Citizen's Guide to the Alaska Constitution" by Gordon Harrison, now in its fifth edition.

Parr's first constitutional contest, for which he received only one response in 2012, asked respondents, "What, if anything, about the Constitution of the State of Alaska should be changed, and why?"

The contest coincided with the 2012 ballot question, which comes up every 10 years, on whether we should hold another constitutional convention. Voters rejected it by a nearly two-to-one margin.

As promised, Parr presented the $1,000 prize four years ago.

Undaunted, he is trying again. To encourage young people, he said that if the winner is a secondary school student, the prize will be $1,500.

But it wouldn't be fair if the judge knows that in advance.

"Please do not include information about your school status in the letter. That can be determined after I pick the winner," he said.

"The letter can be addressed to your newspaper of choice, but to be eligible for the prize, you must send a copy of the letter to me," he said.

Write him at: Charles L. Parr, 676 Old Steese Highway North, Fairbanks, AK 99712-2308.

If you have something to say about the dividend, give it some thought.

All decisions of the judge are final.

Columnist Dermot Cole can be reached at dermot@alaskadispatch.com. 

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.

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