Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Answer the constitutional convention question with a resounding no

  • By Benjamin Brown
  • Monday, October 31, 2022 6:36pm
  • Opinion

Alaska’s Constitution is the fundamental document which sets basic legal parameters for life in the Great Land. Among the newest state constitutions in our nation, it was thoughtfully and deliberatively created by a group of talented, dedicated Alaskans in 1956, three years before statehood. One key decision the Constitutional Convention Delegates made when they undertook the meticulous process of creating the Alaska Constitution was how to provide for means of its being amended with the passage of time to respond to changing circumstances in future years following its adoption.

Article 13 of the Alaska Constitution sets out a variety of ways in which this essential document may be amended. The Alaska Legislature is able to propose constitutional amendments by a 2/3 vote of the House and Senate, and then voters may adopt these changes by a simple majority. The Legislature also has the power to call a Constitutional Convention, and one can also be made to happen by the voters through referendum. To ensure that the opportunity for constitutional changes is regularly accessible to the people, every ten years the question of whether a Constitutional Convention should happen automatically appears before voters, and 2022 is time for that question to be asked again.

This fall, Ballot Measure 1 asks Alaskans, “Shall there be a Constitutional Convention?” I strongly believe the correct answer to this question is a resounding no. That is how I have already voted and how I encourage my fellow Alaskans to vote. Since statehood, neither the Legislature nor voters have ever seen fit to answer the question affirmatively and hold a Constitutional Convention. I believe this is because a Constitutional Convention has never been needed, and it remains an unnecessary and potentially dangerous idea today. The Alaska Constitution is working very well, and any changes to it should be considered on a specific, case-by-case basis, and carefully and cautiously deliberated.

Alaskans have amended our Constitution several times since statehood, and the vast majority of these changes have been for the better. Among the most beneficial changes was the adoption of the Right to Privacy in 1972. I was only five years old, so I didn’t get to vote, but if I had been old enough, I’d have supported it wholeheartedly, and I’m eternally grateful that 86% of voters were in favor and only 14% opposed. There is no good argument against the right to privacy, but it is one of the things that some supporters of a Constitutional Convention today would like to get rid of, among the main reasons I strongly oppose a Constitutional Convention. Another fine example of a good amendment put to the voters by the Legislature was the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund in 1976, which passed with 66% in favor and 34% opposed.

Alaska’s Constitution continues to serve Alaskans well to this day. A Constitutional Convention would place at risk the stability and order upon which Alaskans have come to rely on living our daily lives. Procedurally it would resemble the original Constitutional Convention, with election of delegates from discrete districts and a lengthy and complicated process which would literally allow anything and everything to be reviewed and changed. This sort of comprehensive undertaking was entirely appropriate when the framework of the State of Alaska was being established, but is not suited to the situation today, when we have a functioning state government and the ability to propose specific changes, and not an overall rewrite.

One reason to be especially concerned about the harmful potential of a Constitutional

Convention in 2023 is the pernicious effect of Outside special interests. The political world has changed enormously since the late 1950s, and there is every reason to fear the influx of non-Alaskan individuals and groups seeking to impose their world-view on Alaskans. The Alaska Legislature has the ability to put specific, targeted changes before voters and resolutions proposing changes of this nature are introduced in every legislative session. This allows for a transparent process, not nearly as subject to untraceable influences, which lifts up Alaskan voices through and in conjunction with elected legislators.

Another fact Alaskans should weigh in considering a Constitutional Convention is the significant cost, likely tens of millions of dollars. When Alaskans look at the history of the Alaska Constitution, evaluate how it has worked and continues to work, and think about the harm that might occur if a Constitutional Convention were called today, it should be clear that the wise choice is to vote against Ballot Measure 1.

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan who was born in Anchorage and has lived in Juneau since 2001. He has been a member of the Alaska Bar Association since 2002, and wrote a monthly column for the Juneau Empire from 2003 through 2019. 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.

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