The Alaska Constitution requires that every 10 years, voters consider whether it’s time to elect and convene a group of several dozen Alaskans to rewrite all, some or none of the state’s guiding principles, the laws that govern all other laws.
That would be the polite way of referring to a constitutional convention.
Another way, a more honest description, would be to call the convention a political free-for-all, dominated by special-interest groups and campaign contributions, excessively influenced by social media postings of questionable accuracy, and excessively focused on emotional issues intended to please the extreme sides of all arguments.
That’s a reckless approach to rewriting the state constitution, which has served Alaskans well for more than 60 years. Not perfectly, but responsibly and fairly, which is exactly what it should do.
In less than 52 weeks, voters will be asked again if it is time to convene a convention to start revising and rewriting the Alaska Constitution. The last time the question was on the ballot, in 2012, voters trashed the idea by a 2-to-1 margin. The vote before that, in 2002, went down with more than 70% voting no.
Alaskans voted wisely in 2002 and 2012. Let’s hope they do so again in 2022.
The constitution was written at a convention in Fairbanks in 1955-1956, before Anchorage became the center of the unruly political universe in Alaska. To call delegates together in today’s polarized times, where public meetings have become shouting matches, where parking lot confrontations are as common as snow tires in winter and tourists in the summer, would be as irresponsible as getting between a moose and her calf. Nothing good could come out of the encounter, for anyone.
With a constitutional rewrite, the possibilities for messing with people’s lives are endless: Public schools, subsistence and personal-use hunting and fishing, the right to privacy, public services, spending, taxes, the court system and responsible limits on political campaign fundraising would all be at risk in political popularity contests.
Alaska’s constitution provides individuals with a much stronger right to privacy than other states — a right that is best left alone. Voters would be wise to keep that in mind over the next 51 weeks leading up to the general election ballot in November 2022, when they will vote on the convention. While that right to privacy does not protect Alaskans from dumb political decisions, only we can protect ourselves from rewriting the constitution and putting privacy and a whole lot more at risk.
Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and fiscal policy work. He is currently owner and editor of the weekly Wrangell Sentinel newspaper.
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