Opinions

OPINION: Why Alaskans are uniting against a constitutional convention

Juneau, capitol

Imagine 55 Alaskans from all walks of life, citizens with different political affiliations and backgrounds meeting together with a unifying passion for Alaska’s future. That’s what happened at the University of Alaska, in College, Alaska, in November 1955. Over three long months, these territorial citizens stood together to complete the writing of our Alaska Constitution.

Together, they charted the course of statehood. When differences of opinion arose, their shared vision for an expanding and prosperous state kept them focused on that mission, making debates productive and compromise negotiable. The constitution they created sought to bring together “best practices” from across the nation for this guiding document, making it brief, broad and empowering for self-government. It put the people of the Alaska in charge through a strong representative legislative branch. It gave the executive branch effective authority to lead.

The Alaska Constitution, ratified in 1956, has long stood the test of time — not as a perfect and flawless document but as a time-proven foundation to the state we all love. Our founders understood that Alaska’s constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, would be subject to change, and their foresight empowered the people to enact those changes through two very distinct mechanisms: amendment and convention.

Since ratification, changes to our constitution have followed one distinct path — the well-known and established amendment process. Forty times, specific and targeted changes have been proposed. Ideas have been deliberated by the Alaska Legislature and put before Alaska voters for their opinion. On 28 occasions, Alaska voters have agreed with those amendments. After years of being tested, the amendment process has become the tried-and-true mechanism for constitutional change in Alaska.

Alternatively, the path of constitutional convention — offered to the voters of Alaska at least once every 10 years — has been soundly rejected on each and every occasion. The reasons have varied, but Alaska voters have long recognized the process as fraught with challenges. As a result, Alaskans have overwhelmingly sided with defending our foundational document that has carried us through turbulent political times.

This November, as Alaska voters are once again asked the question: “Shall there be a constitutional convention?” we believe the resounding answer remains no.

Together, we have formed a growing coalition of more than 150 Alaskans from all walks of life, backgrounds and political affiliations to support an Alaska-first effort to defend our constitution from fundamental rewrite and catastrophic change. Our coalition has looked past our policy and political differences to come together around this single issue — the belief that a constitutional convention is not the answer to Alaska’s various challenges.

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We believe a constitutional convention is not only unnecessary and expensive, but it would be dangerous for our state. Not only would it unnecessarily inject years of uncertainty into the statutory and regulatory frameworks that govern every aspect of Alaskans’ lives, it would open our entire constitution up for revision. The principles contained in our constitution, such as common use of our natural resources, sustained yield management, public domain, access to fisheries, mineral and water rights, and access to navigable waters could all be put in jeopardy.

As many have outlined in the decades before us, a convention and its delegates would have virtually no limit — opening a Pandora’s box of problems for our state. Moreover, a constitutional convention would be a multi-year, contentious process; prone to outside, special interests flocking to our state to test the political waters and reshape our constitution to fit certain interests. At a time of so much instability and uncertainty, this would result in divisive deliberations for years to come with little to no guarantee for change.

In the months ahead, we look forward to engaging Alaskans to make the very serious case as to why a constitutional convention is unnecessary, expensive and dangerous to our state, our people, our business community and to future generations. We are proud of the overwhelming response and engagement we’ve received from Alaskans who understand the inherent risk, instability and unintended consequences created by opening Alaska’s constitution to fundamental rewrite. Alaskans have rejected the call for a constitutional convention at each opportunity, and we strongly encourage Alaskans to do so again. As you begin to explore the November 2022 general election ballot question, “Shall there be a constitutional convention?” we strongly urge you to vote no.

Defend Our Constitution is a coalition of Alaskans united in opposition to the November 2022 general election question: “Shall there be a constitutional convention.” The group was formed in December 2021 as a ballot measure group opposing the ballot question. Campaign co-chairs include: Cathy Giessel of Anchorage, John Coghill of Fairbanks, Bruce Botelho of Juneau, Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, Gail Schubert of the Bering Straits region, Joelle Hall of Anchorage, Bill Corbus of Juneau, and Luke Hopkins of Fairbanks.

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