Politics

Alaska political insiders prepare for a fight over next year’s constitutional convention vote

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A group of longtime Alaska political insiders representing a range of political perspectives intends to urge Alaskans to vote “no” next year on whether to hold a constitutional convention.

Defend our Constitution, which announced its creation Sunday, includes prominent Republicans, Democrats and independents and is the latest sign that next year’s statewide election will include a high-profile fight over a constitutional convention.

Among the group are former state senators Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, current Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and former Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho, a prominent Juneau Democrat. Also participating is Joelle Hall, president of the politically active Alaska AFL-CIO, and Bill Corbus, the wealthy Republican former owner of Juneau’s electric utility.

Alaskans are asked every 10 years whether they want to call a convention, which would allow major changes to the state’s constitution. The next vote is in November 2022.

Because the Alaska Legislature has been unable to advance a constitutional amendment to protect the Alaska Permanent Fund from overspending or to guarantee a Permanent Fund dividend, some Alaskans have begun endorsing a convention as a means to do so.

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, said in a social media post last week, “I am now convinced it is the only way to solve many of our key issues, top among them — if for no other reason than so we stop fighting about it year after year — permanently protecting the Permanent Fund and Permanent Fund dividend.”

Other Alaskans want a constitutional convention to address other topics. The Alaskan Independence Party, for example, has circulated a draft constitution that would attempt to nullify some parts of the U.S. Constitution in Alaska.

Opponents of abortion in Alaska also have said they will support a constitutional convention as a means to outlaw the practice. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that reproductive rights, including abortion, are protected by the privacy clause of the Alaska Constitution.

Under the prospective timeline in existing law, if voters approve a convention next year, they would vote for delegates in 2024 and a convention would take place after that. The resulting document would be subject to approval in the 2026 statewide election.

That timeline could be speeded up if the Alaska Legislature calls for a special election.

Though any new constitution would likely be years away, a successful vote could create years of uncertainty, and that has catalyzed opponents.

“I see it as economic uncertainty as well as social uncertainty,” Giessel said, explaining her participation in the vote-no group.

Last month, the Alaska Municipal League — a network of local governments across the state — passed a resolution urging a “no” vote on the convention. The resolution also said that league will join a campaign in opposition.

The Alaska Democratic Party and NEA-Alaska are also recommending a “no” vote on the constitutional convention question.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said a 1998 ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court protects abortion rights in the state. The court ruled in 1997.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.

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