A constitution is a statement of values. As a political document, it expresses the identity and guiding principles of the state or nation that created it. In our case, the Alaska Constitution reflects the uniqueness of our place and our people. It speaks both of rights and of duties. It specifies a right to privacy, protects us no matter where we come from, who we love and how we worship. It requires that our lands and waters be managed for our collective good, and ensures that as Alaskans, we maintain control over decisions that affect our lives and our futures.
This November, we will be asked a question that has been asked of us every 10 years — should we hold a constitutional convention? If we say yes, we begin a process that could eliminate rights we consider inalienable or modify legal structures that form the basis of economic investment and development. That perilous course poses grave dangers to our core Alaskan values.
That is why every time this question has appeared on the ballot, Alaskans have voted no. This time around, we’re urging you to do the same thing.
Here is a partial list of what is at stake:
Our right to privacy and freedom from governmental interference. Our constitution explicitly and directly protects our privacy — a right that defines us as Alaskans. It also makes sure that the government cannot interfere in some of the most personal decisions we make for ourselves. Our right to make health care decisions for ourselves, including our right to abortion, depends on protecting these critical rights.
Our right to equal protection. The Alaska Constitution shields each of us from all forms of discrimination. It protects our right to speech, our right to assemble, and our right to worship as we choose. This means that our government cannot deny people equal protection under the law no matter where we are from, who we love, what we look like, or our own personal history. And it keeps the government from policing what we think, learn, say, believe in, and fight for.
Our right to an independent justice system free from politics. When Alaskans set about to write our constitution, we did our homework. We knew then as we know now that we need a justice system that is independent and insulated from politics. Our framers established a framework for a state court system based on merit and independence, not on politics. The founders created a system of judicial independence that is critical to preserving our liberties.
Our right to exercise local control. The Alaska Constitution built a government that is accountable to the people it serves. It makes sure that decision-making happens at a local level to the greatest extent possible. Although the constitution failed to originally protect tribal rights to self-governance, that gap is increasingly filled through laws that recognize tribes and provide for educational compacting. These critical democratic structures created to protect our uniquely Alaskan way of life would be jeopardized with a convention.
Beside risking our basic, fundamental rights, a convention would be destabilizing and come at unjustifiable expense at a time when we can ill-afford either. Estimates show that a convention could cost $17 million. It would take years to draft a new constitution, and the process would be fraught with politics. In the middle of all of this time and expense, we would face massive instability, hurting our economy and crippling our ability to plan for our future. Our Permanent Fund and our dividends are at risk too.
A convention is unnecessary. We have a robust amendment system that can be proposed either legislatively or through public initiative. This process works — Alaskans have amended our constitution 28 times since statehood.
Voting no on a constitutional convention protects what we value most. Alaskans cherish the fact that we live in a place where we are safe, equal and free. Where we have the ability to define our own fates and futures. Ask yourself, do we benefit if we jeopardize these fundamental rights and risk all that is essential to our identity as Alaskans? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question of whether we want to hold a constitutional convention: No.
Mara Kimmel is the executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, and previously taught constitutional law and Alaska government at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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