Vote “No” on a Constitutional Convention by Bruce Bothelo
On November 8th Alaskans will go to the polls to elect our state’s leadership. They will also be asked to decide the following question: “Shall there be a constitutional convention?” This question must appear on the ballot once every ten years. Overwhelmingly, voters have said “no” all five times since 1972. Alaskans should vote “no” again in 2022. Here’s why:
Alaska’s constitution is a model constitution. Scholars have praised Alaska’s constitution for its clarity, simplicity, and its inventiveness. For example, it is the first state constitution that provided for a natural resources article. Its local government and judiciary articles have been particularly highlighted.
Alaska’s constitution has an effective means to be amended. The legislature can propose changes to the constitution when 2/3 of each house agrees that an amendment should be put before the voters and the voters approve the change. Forty amendments have been proposed and Alaskans have approved twenty-eight of them. Among those that have gained approval are our guarantee of the right to privacy, the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund, and removal of English as a requirement for voting.
A constitutional convention could open a Pandora’s box. In Greek mythology, Zeus sent Pandora to earth with a “gift,” a jar containing all manner of evil and misery. When she opened it, these horrible things were let loose in the world. Because a constitutional convention is free to change the constitution in any way (or start over), it is like Pandora’s box. Many special interests want to change the constitution and the list is long: changing how judges are selected, altering our right to privacy, limiting the power of organized labor, moving the capital, capping spending on essential services to the public, and many more.
A constitutional convention is expensive and could create long-term uncertainty. A convention, including pre-convention preparation, staffing, support and per diem, is estimated to cost nearly $17 million. But the greater cost is incalculable. Our current constitution is supported by a body of law enacted by successive legislatures and interpreted by the courts over more than 60 years. If major changes are made by a convention and approved by the voters, one should expect years of litigation over the meaning of those changes. Uncertainty about how the constitution and laws should be applied has a chilling effect on decisions of businesses to invest in Alaska.
Alaskans have reason to be proud of our current constitution. Any changes should be thoughtful and carefully crafted. The amendment process through the legislature assures that there is a rigorous review. The effectiveness of that method helps explain why Alaskans have consistently rejected a call for a constitutional convention. They should do so again on November 8th.
Bruce Botelho was Alaska’s Attorney General from 1994-2002 and served four terms as Mayor of Juneau, most recently from 2009-2012.
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