OPINION: Voting for a constitutional convention would invite chaos and Outside-funded shenanigans

Alaska Capitol

There are, in hard numbers, 632 very good reasons — give or take a couple — to vote no, nyet, uh-uh on the decennial question appearing on November’s ballot asking whether Alaska should convene a state constitutional convention.

No need to detail each reason here. I am a journalist. If you cannot trust me ...

I spent some time recently going over those reasons, trying to persuade some friends that voting yes Nov. 8 on Ballot Measure 1 would be bad, bad, bad. It could open everything in the state constitution to radical change by gaggles of self-interested opportunists, and doing that in these politically toxic, agenda-driven times, I argued, would be akin to inviting a busload of starving wolverines to a cheeseburger party at McDonald’s. It would be, at best, short-sighted — and decidedly messy.

But some of the guys lost interest at about reason No. 538. They wanted constitutional change. They wanted free beer, free annual tickets to Hawaii, free pizza on odd-numbered days; they wanted an across-the-board ban on liberals; they wanted an annual million-dollar Permanent Fund dividend; they wanted all cops and judges to wear tutus. (I strenuously argued against it. Most of them simply do not have the legs to pull it off.) One of the guys even wanted emperor penguins as the state bird. Yes, yes, I know, the nearest penguins are in the Galapagos Islands, but that made no difference.

Why are we having to worry about all this right now? Article XIII of the Alaska Constitution lays out the three ways the state’s founding document can be monkeyed with: A two-thirds vote by the House and Senate; a constitutional convention called at any time by the Alaska Legislature; or, a convention called by referendum.

The constitution says, “If during any 10-year period a constitutional convention has not been held, the lieutenant governor shall place on the ballot for the next general election the question: ‘Shall there be a Constitutional Convention?’” If a majority votes yes, “delegates to the convention shall be chosen at the next regular statewide election.”

Well, It’s been 10 years. Voters in 2012 rejected the idea. No real surprise. The question has appeared on the ballot every decade since 1970 and tanked miserably each time. Well, except in 1970, when it squeaked by, but the Alaska Supreme Court ruled the ballot language asking the convention question was misleading and an amended question was put on the 1972 ballot. It bit the dust.


The good news? Voters must approve any constitutional amendments - which, I argued to the guys, brings up reason No. 632 (or is it 634?) to reject the notion of a convention.

Despite Alaskans regularly slapping down Outside-funded initiatives over the years, they can, it turns out, be tricked — easily. Exhibit A is the state’s newfangled voting system. Outside groups a few years ago ponied up nearly $7 million largely in money from who-knows-where to supplant a voting system that worked just swell in Alaska for generations. The new system is aimed at helping leftist, moderate and marginal candidates who struggled at the polls under the old system. Most recently, we saw Democrat Mary Peltola winning the “jungle primary” for the late Rep. Don Young’s House seat — although 60% of the voters voted for other candidates. What would happen if voters next month were to approve a constitutional convention and delegates decided to do away with constitutionally protected privacy rights, outlawing abortion in any circumstance, or enshrining the Permanent Fund dividend in the constitution at the cost of, say, education? What if a big-money Outside group wanted more stringent curbs on guns or mining or fishing? Or doing away with constitutionally protected state retirement benefits? Or turning the Permanent Fund into a lottery? Anything — anything — could happen because everything would be on the table.

You might think — even hope — voters who have the last word would step up and save the day, striking a blow for common sense despite this group or that — with malice in their cold, little carpetbagger hearts — showing up with $10 million or $20 million to spend on super-charged media blitzes to get their way. Alaska, after all, is a cheap political date where $20 million goes a long, long way. Keep in mind, it only took left-leaning Outside groups a puny $7 million in dark money — protected in the new election system, by the way — to upend our election system to suit their ends.

There are those who would argue that the good-hearted among us would never succumb to the more base notions that could be loosed in a scramble to “fix” the state constitution.

They are wrong.

That is just another reason to vote no on Ballot Measure 1.

Paul Jenkins is a former Associated Press reporter, managing editor of the Anchorage Times, an editor of the Voice of the Times and former editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet.

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Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is a former Associated Press reporter, managing editor of the Anchorage Times, an editor of the Voice of the Times and former editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet.