The framers of Alaska’s Constitution were given a gift. Because Alaska was the 49th state to join the United States of America, our framers had 48 other state constitutions to pick and choose from. Our framers learned how courts interpreted other states’ constitutional language and knew what provisions to write into Alaska’s Constitution, like the right for children to attend public school or the creation of home rule local governments.
Alaska has a wonderfully crafted constitution that has stood the test of time and challenges. Every 10 years Alaska citizens are asked if they want to hold a convention and maybe adopt a new constitution. In the past the citizens have said no. One basic reason is that the current amendment process works and they see no need for wholesale unpredictable changes that could occur with a new convention.
There have been many letters to the editor and other columns expressing fears about opening “pandora’s Box.” These authors express concern about starting something that has great potential to turn out in disturbingly unpredictable ways. They note the economic uncertainty, legal challenges, costs for another election (choosing delegates), cost of the convention alone and then a further election to accept or reject the new constitution, 2-3 years and millions of dollars, as reasons to oppose a convention.
On aspect not examined is the impact of massive changes to local laws and rules of operating. Home rule governments, like the City and Borough of Juneau, are governed by the provisions of the Alaska Constitution’s Local Government Article 10. Any changes to that article would reverberate for years throughout local government as the Legislature seeks to implement changes and the courts are called upon to reinterpret provisions that could range from school funding, authority to tax, the exercise of police powers, regulate land use and the like. The possible disruption to our current local governance is frightening.
If a constitutional convention alters the home rule powers, the taxing provisions or public education provisions, then the citizens of Juneau would need to fund amendments to our local government charter and ordinances, which would divert precious taxpayer funds away from community priorities like housing, parks, schools, and economic development. Alaskans should vote no and keep our existing constitution because it has served Alaska well since 1959 and the harm to taxpayers is too great.
• Loren Jones is a former member of the CBJ Assembly (2012-2021) and has been a resident of Juneau since 1975. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.