Opinions

OPINION: Alaska’s Constitution doesn’t need a revamp

State Capitol building

Lust for a supersized Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and giving the government a larger role in dictating personal choices are about as miserable a pair of reasons for rewriting the state constitution as imaginable.

Problem is, they are not imagined, they are real.

Alaskans will vote in less than 11 weeks whether they want to convene a constitutional convention to embark on rewriting the state’s founding document.

The constitution requires that voters get a chance every 10 years to decide if they want a do-over on the 1950s’ guiding principles of law. And every 10 years, starting in 1972, Alaskans have overwhelmingly said that no, a constitutional convention to pick at, pick apart and pick winners and losers is not a good idea. The last vote, in 2012, was 2-1 against convening a convention.

Sadly, the political world has changed a lot since 2012, and not for the better. False claims — a polite way of saying lies — partisanship, animosity and social media-driven attacks have overtaken and overwhelmed common sense and common decency. This is not a healthy environment for treating the constitution as a blank piece of paper and writing a new version with a politically infused Sharpie.

But that’s where Alaska could be headed. And reminding voters that this is all about politics, hot-button social issues and money, a group of conservative Alaskans, headed by a leading member of the Alaska Republican Party and the president of the anti-abortion Alaska Family Council, has formed a campaign organization to support the constitutional convention vote on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

R. Keith Heim, a member of the ConventionYes steering committee, said his priority is changing the constitution to mandate large Permanent Fund dividends every year. “The biggest driving force for the convention, yes, is to basically put this Permanent Fund dividend into the constitution,” he told the Alaska Beacon news website this month.

Other members of the rewrite-the-laws committee are Jake Libbey, publisher of the conservative Christian website the Alaska Watchman, and Leigh Sloan, an Anchorage woman who says on her website that her “desire is to shift paradigms in our culture to reflect kingdom truths.”

In addition to guaranteeing a fat dividend in the constitution, possibly putting it ahead of state funding for public schools, and telling women how to run their lives and their bodies, some supporters of a constitutional rewrite have long argued for changing how Alaska selects its judges.

Instead of an impartial, measured selection process for judges that has served Alaska well for more than 60 years, many favor adding a heavier dose of politics — their personal politics — to the process, putting their hands on the wheels of justice.

Pro-rewrite advocates acknowledge that everyone could bring their favorite grievance to the table when the pens and paper come out to rewrite the constitution. Each member of the ConventionYes steering committee has “our own personal things that we’re bringing to the group,” Heim told the Beacon.

That is a scary thought, a room full of people focused on their own personal grievances to dictate the future of the state.

“Once you decide to open up a convention, the constitution is very clear that delegates who are selected are completely free to entirely rewrite the document,” said Bruce Botelho, a former attorney general who chairs the leading statewide anti-convention group.

Voters should reject opening up the constitution for major political surgery.

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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Larry Persily

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal jobs in oil and gas and taxes, including deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue 1999-2003.

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