On Nov. 8, Alaskans will vote on whether or not to hold a constitutional convention. We are two Juneauites: a strong liberal and a strong conservative. We disagree on many issues. But we are friends, and join together to urge Alaskans to vote against Proposition 1, which calls for a constitutional convention.
Constitutions are meant to provide a framework for government, guarantee fundamental rights, and outline government power. They set out our political rules of engagement — how we govern ourselves and resolve our disagreements. A good constitution works for the ages. It is specific
on rules of the road—establishing the executive and legislative branches, their numbers, and terms, etc. They are also vague enough to adapt to the times. We know what is set in stone and cannot be disputed and what is subject to disagreement and political or judicial resolution.
Our Constitution has worked well since it was approved by the voters, and it is lauded as a model. Its flexibility has been demonstrated by the fact that it has been amended 27 times since its enactment—and most of those amendments passed overwhelmingly and were “good government” amendments (changing the voting age, residency requirements, how to make changes to the Statehood Act). Only a few have become controversial over time (for example, the right to privacy — enacted in the 1970s as a response to government intrusion in the form of a criminal database and expanded to include the right to possess marijuana and to expand abortion rights).
The founding Fathers and Mothers of the Alaska Constitution drafted a document that has served Alaskan well for over 65 years. That is because they were future-minded when they debated and drafted the document. For the most part, Alaska’s Constitution did not attempt to resolve the disputes of the day. Instead, the founders strived to create a framework for government that is efficient and fair to everybody. As a result, while we may argue about policy matters, we have been immune to much of the controversy over foundational governmental function that has plagued the federal government and many states.
If we have a constitutional convention, one of the steps will involve the election of delegates to it. Many of the people who run to be delegates to draft the new constitution will be career politicians, industry lobbyists, and special interest leaders. They will have narrow and self-
serving agendas. There will be no mandate for change, only individual delegates who want to resolve a narrow matter in their own favor. Deals will happen, and the deals may be downright ugly. Repeal the right to privacy in exchange for a maximum of 2% mineral extraction royalties? That is horribly possible. Guaranteed physician-assisted suicide in exchange for gutting the Department of Natural Resources’ regulatory authority? Also possible. The examples are infinite.
We live in an age where bipartisan norms of decent behavior have eroded. The selfish, the cruel, and the delusional often dominate our politics. Behavior that was unthinkable five years ago is now the norm. Facts no longer matter to a large proportion of our population. Winning at all costs is the amoral motivation of an increasing number of politicians—even if it means undermining the public’s trust in the principles and institutions that permit people of differing points of view to live together harmoniously and resolve their disputes peacefully.
We live in the worst possible time to hold a constitutional convention. The adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here. Because our system works so well, the only reason to hold a constitutional convention is to ruin the constitution. It has been said that a constitutional convention would open Pandora’s box. We think that is too weak a metaphor. We prefer former New Mexico Governor Bruce King’s point: a constitutional convention would open a whole box of Pandora’s troubles upon troubles upon troubles. There is no worse time to hold a constitutional convention. No good can come from it.
Please vote no on Proposition 1.
• Beth Kerttula, former state Representative from Juneau, served as Director of the National Ocean Council in the Executive Office of President Barak Obama. Jeffery Troutt, a Juneau attorney, served as an appointee in the administration of President George W. Bush.