ANCHORAGE — Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has indicated that he will vote in favor of calling a convention to consider amending the state’s constitution.
Candidates for governor at an Alaska Resource Development Council forum Tuesday were asked during a “lightning round” if they would be voting for a constitutional convention in next month’s general election. Candidates responded by raising “yes” or “no” signs, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Dunleavy and Republican Charlie Pierce raised “yes” signs. Former Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, and Les Gara, a Democrat, raised “no” signs.
Voters are asked every 10 years if there should be a constitutional convention. While the question has in the past been soundly defeated, both sides of the debate have been preparing for a fight this year.
Some convention supporters see an opening to push for one amid public frustration with years of political fighting over what size check should be paid to residents from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund.
During a convention, delegates typically have free reign to propose revisions — or even entirely new constitutions — that would then go back to voters for ratification. Some of those pursuing a convention would like to restrict abortion or alter the process for selecting judges in a way that critics say could make the process more partisan.
Opponents of a convention warn against opening the constitution to revision in an era of stark political polarization.
The question will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
“The governor’s decision today when presented with a yes or no question was to answer in the affirmative that he will vote to support a constitutional convention,” said Andrew Jensen, who works in the governor’s office and volunteers for Dunleavy’s campaign as a spokesperson. “He still trusts the people of Alaska to ultimately make the decision. Whatever the people decide is going to be fine with him.”
Dunleavy, in an issues survey from news organizations, including the newspaper, in September, said, “I trust the people of Alaska, and will respect either decision they make. I disagree with the argument being made that there is something to fear from a convention.”
Bob Bird, who leads the Alaskan Independence Party and has long advocated for a constitutional convention, said Dunleavy’s stance “can only help us.”
Supporters of a convention have noted that any draft changes approved through a convention would need to go before Alaska voters, and if a majority didn’t support them, they would be rejected. But convention opponents say that’s too risky and worry that outside special interests would seek to influence a convention.
Alaska AFL-CIO President Joelle Hall is with the group Defend Our Constitution, which opposes a convention. She said politically engaged Alaskans likely will not be surprised that Dunleavy announced he would vote yes on the convention question.
“I don’t know what this will do to more moderate Republicans and independents in the middle,” Hall said. “I think we’ve made the case that it’s dangerous and unnecessary and expensive. And I guess the governor has to tell people why he thinks it’s safe to open it up. I just don’t see the rationale.”