Voting no on an Alaska constitutional convention in 2022 is the single most important vote you may ever cast.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that. More than any one candidate, more than any single issue ever to come before Alaska’s voters, voting against a constitutional convention this November is the single most important thing Alaskans can do for democracy.
That’s true no matter where you fall on the political spectrum: far right, far left or anywhere in between. In a country and state that’s increasingly divided and averse to nuance, this should be something that all Alaskans can unite against in force.
I wish I could adequately convey the gravity, expense and pointless danger of a constitutional convention in Alaska in this moment — both for Alaskans here today and for future generations.
As I write this, outside interests are pouring millions in unlimited dark money into an effort to turn Alaska into a civic guinea pig. They want to shred and rewrite Alaska’s founding document and start over again with a boot on the neck of your personal privacy, natural resources, Permanent Fund dividend, schools, the judiciary, civil rights and liberties — all to the tune of $17 million of Alaskans’ money.
First, some background: Every state in the union has its own constitution. State constitutions can provide more — but never fewer — individual rights and liberties than the federal constitution. The Alaska Constitution is a model of clarity, thoroughness and individual freedoms.
There are two ways to change it: amendment or convention. An amendment is the more surgical way. Amendments are limited to a single issue and have happened many times in state history. The Legislature must pass a three-fourths resolution and then the amendment goes on the ballot for the people to vote on.
The second way is a constitutional convention, like the one we held in 1955 when Alaska was first becoming a state. The question whether to hold a convention goes on the ballot every 10 years, and Alaska’s voters have always rejected it. The Legislature also has the power to call a convention at any time, but never has. The question is up again this year on the general election ballot.
It’s hard to pick the worst thing about a constitutional convention, but you could start with everything we stand to lose.
Public schools; subsistence and personal use hunting and fishing; the PFD; public services; power cost equalization and ferries in rural Alaska; the court system; and the Alaska Constitution’s crown jewel -- an explicit right to privacy from government intrusion -- could be vaporized in whole or in part with the stroke of a pen. These explicit rights, and decades of Alaska Supreme Court caselaw affirming and interpreting them, could simply vanish.
You could also lose plenty of sleep over how a convention would run and how the delegates (the people in charge of the rewrite) would be chosen.
Any legally qualified voter in Alaska may run to be a delegate. Sitting legislators could and probably would run as delegates and win on name recognition alone. Recall that these are the same folks who are bickering in Juneau one dysfunctional, gridlocked session after the next while the rest of us watch the state burn, literally and figuratively.
Not to mention the cost.
A constitutional convention would cost Alaskans about $17 million, and that’s a low-ball quote. The convention is expected to last 75 days with 30 more days of post-event wrap-up; lawyer fees; venue rental and event security; support staff for delegates; convention operations; and salaries and per diem for some 65 delegates. The changes they make wouldn’t come to the voters until 2026. It’s a long, expensive process with no guaranteed outcome of any kind.
Meanwhile, Outside groups representing special interests on every facet of the ideological prism will flood these delegate races with cash in order to put their foot soldiers in the room where it happens.
That means oil companies, environmental groups, school voucher opponents and proponents, abortion opponents and advocates, and others could raid the Permanent Fund and literally rewrite your freedoms and access to public resources and services — all to their own benefit, not yours.
And then there’s the impact on Alaska’s business climate. The specter of a full constitutional rewrite means businesses would have no way to plan for the future. Among other things, a statewide income tax, the PFD, and environmental regulations would be up for debate, leading to years of legal and regulatory uncertainty and litigation that would discourage or prevent investment in Alaska and paralyze our industries.
Bottom line, a constitutional convention is a costly, unnecessary and dangerous can of worms that Alaskans would be gravely mistaken to open. Don’t risk it. Vote no on a constitutional convention this November.
Libby Bakalar is an attorney and freelance writer who blogs at One Hot Mess Alaska. She is a former assistant attorney general for the state of Alaska.
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