In a My Turn column earlier this month J.H. Snider accused the lieutenant governor of “secretly, arbitrarily and with minimal democratic accountability” deciding whose statement in favor of the constitutional convention will appear in the state’s official election pamphlet. He went on to claim that since 1970 the Alaska Division of Elections has “perpetrated a negative bias via an election pamphlet including a pro and con statement on the convention question.”
Snider is a state constitutional law scholar, but has failed to do his homework here. Alaska’s first OEP encompassing the constitutional convention question was 1982 and there was no statement, either pro or con, included for publication. It has only been in the last three election cycles that proponents and opponents have set forth their views.
Snider sets up his straw man, suggesting that the division will either “pick a respected authority who will nevertheless [make] a poor case, or pick someone widely viewed as an extremist so what he says won’t matter.”
Snider’s motives for his unwarranted attack may be wholly honorable. I suspect, however, that he is implicitly making the case that he is uniquely qualified to offer arguments in favor of a constitutional convention. His byline indicates that he is the editor of the Alaska State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse. This impressive-sounding name mirrors similar websites that he has established in several other states also considering periodic referenda on whether a constitutional convention should be held. These include the Hawaii State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, the Iowa State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse and the Missouri State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, to name a few. Unsurprisingly, all have advocated in favor of a constitutional convention.
There is virtue to a constitutional mechanism that allows a state’s citizens to by-pass a legislature’s control over what changes to a constitution should advance to the ballot. But a convention for its own sake, without some sense of the issues to be addressed, is a recipe for disaster. I trust the Division of Elections to choose an advocate or advocates who have specific changes that can be openly debated in the months leading to the Nov. 8 election.
• Former mayor and attorney general, Bruce Botelho is a co-chair of Defend Our Constitution, a group opposed to a constitutional convention in 2022, though he writes in his individual capacity.