Editorial: On Ballot Measure 1: vote No
October 27, 2022
Alaska’s midterm general election is underway. Early and absentee voting has begun, and election day is less than two weeks away. There are many important decisions on the ballot, and perhaps most important of all is the ballot measure question: Shall there be a constitutional convention?
This question was asked last month of Petersburg’s candidates for assembly, and it was the one and only topic that everyone agreed on. Regardless of political leaning the resounding answer was “No.”
Donna Marsh said, “No, I do not support a constitutional convention. It is indeed a pandora’s box. Trying to stuff that genie back in the bottle is not going to work…I think we ought to stick with what the framers started back at the beginning of statehood.”
Scott Newman said, “No. I do not support a constitutional convention…once you open it up there is no telling what’s going to come of it.”
“We’re unanimous on this one. Absolutely not. It could open the door to partisan politics influence on the state constitution…and that’s a lose-lose for all Alaskans,” said Jeigh Stanton Gregor.
The sentiments of these local leaders are reflected broadly across the state.
This week the United
Fishermen of Alaska issued a statement opposing a constitutional convention.
“A constitutional convention would be dangerous for commercial fisheries as well as the state in general. Not only is there a clear and present danger to the future of our fisheries, but the years of statutory and regulatory uncertainty would hinder economic growth and investment in our industry,” said UFA Executive Director, Tracy Welch.
And last weekend the Alaska Federation of Natives passed a resolution opposed to a convention declaring among other salient points that “Alaska’s Constitution remains a stabilizing guide through these politically turbulent times…A constitutional convention would be expensive and dangerous: it would open the entire Constitution for revision on a wide range of critical issues…Rural Alaska could have the most to lose if a convention were called, as policymakers have routinely exhibited opposition towards issues such as Power Cost Equalization, the Alaska
Marine Highway System, and rural education funding…”
Those in favor of the convention see it as an exciting opportunity to move forward agendas, like Bob Bird who represented the pro-convention position at last month’s Alaska Public Media live debate. Bird, who is Chairman of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP), said, “The PFD is the spark, but when you get the spark like that there’s no limit to what a constitutional convention might produce.” According to their own website, the foremost goal of the AIP is to put to vote the question of whether Alaska should become a separate and independent nation. But another primary goal of the AIP—and one perhaps more seriously at issue in a convention—is their desire that public money be made available for parents to send their children to religious and private schools.
Reading through the commentaries published by those in favor of the convention, Alaska’s public school system is a recurrent, specific target.
This section of our constitution is one that outspoken convention supporters want to see changed:
Article VII, Section 1 of our constitution requires the state legislature to “establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State…Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”
At this time, when the funding levels for most of Alaska’s public schools are currently too low, when the base student allocation has not even remotely kept up with inflation, our state’s public schools are in need of greater investment, not less. Changing the constitution to allow shifting funds away from public school in favor of religious and private schools would cause significant harm across Alaska.
Another key section of Alaska’s constitution directly under attack by those seeking a convention is Article I, Section 22. This is our constitution’s strong privacy protection, which establishes: “The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed.”
This explicit declaration of the Alaskan right to privacy is one of the strongest privacy protections in any state’s constitution. It affirms that the government cannot trample one’s privacy—including medical privacy and therefore access to abortion is constitutionally protected in Alaska.
This is one of the hot button issues energizing the push toward a convention. But everyone, including Alaskans who oppose the right to abortion, should think twice about ripping up our state’s privacy protections. Privacy is a crucial pillar of individual freedom.
Our constitution’s framers had the advantage of learning from every state constitution drafted before ours. They crafted a well-informed document that continues to serve Alaska. Every ten years we are asked as a state if the time has come for us to throw away our constitution and start over, and we have consistently had the good sense to overwhelmingly say No.
Our constitution can change and grow as we grow. Like Thomas Jefferson wrote, “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”
Amendments are the way to carefully keep our constitution in step with our lives. That process is not broken. There have been 28 amendments in the 66 years since our constitution was ratified—one of those amendments was the creation of the Permanent Fund in 1976.
Each and every change to our constitution—because it affects the whole of our structure of law and the lives of each person in the state—should be put through the rigorous process of an amendment’s consideration.
If there are those with good ideas that deserve the public support necessary to change our constitution, I say bring them forward as amendments.
It seems, though, that there are some with agendas they don’t believe would have enough public support to survive the amendment process. A convention would be their opportunity to inflict those ideas on the rest of us. And to that proposition, like we have done for the last five decades,
on November 8, say No.