Let’s not upset the apple cart.
The Alaska Constitution has served Alaskans superbly for 60-plus years.
But, according to the Constitution, Alaskans are to be asked at least once a decade whether it is time for a new constitutional convention.
That question will be on the November general election ballot. The answer is no, and here’s why:
The potential for peril is significant.
To begin with, the process of changing the constitution following a favorable vote isn’t swift. It will take time.
If Alaskans approve the ballot measure, the Legislature would have to meet and decide the number of delegates for the convention and how they would be selected. Twice in the 1970s (1971 and 1978-1980), the Legislature considered those questions. Each time they answered with 65 delegates, 40 to be selected by House districts and 20 based on Senate districts, plus five delegates elected statewide at-large.
It’s likely the earliest the Legislature could act would be in the beginning of the 2023 session, followed by a special election in the summer of 2023, a convention in the fall of 2023, and a statewide vote on proposed constitutional changes in November 2024.
Or the process might be elongated with the Legislature acting in 2024. Delegates could be elected in 2024 during either the primary or the general election, followed by a convention in 2025 and a public vote in November 2026.
If voters changed the constitution, then it’s probable that lawsuits would be filed over the meaning of specific changes and the legal challenges could extend over years. It all would depend on the specific changes.
By the time all of that was settled, the majority of Alaskans’ beliefs and objectives might not align with the current electorate, and they might not like the final draft of the constitution.
And what would be the purpose of a convention at this point?
Well, some folks simply are frustrated with government. And what better way to mess with it, but to vote to change its structure?
Except that isn’t the way to address it. Frustration likely would lead to greater exasperation. With elected officials involved, and the Legislature would be represented, the proceedings wouldn’t be much different from what currently angers and annoys during a legislative session.
The convention also would open the door for a wide variety of hot topics.
If the U.S. Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade, then the decision of whether abortion should be legal or not moves to the purview of the states. Some Alaskans might want to encase an abortion law — either anti or pro — into a revised constitution.
Other issues that might become topics at a convention include prenatal rights, school choice, relocation of the capital, public employees retirement benefits and distribution guidelines for the Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.
It’s obvious these volatile topics — whether one or all came to the convention — would bode for a lively convention.
It would only get more animated when delegates started horse trading. A vote for abortion limits might be exchanged for a PFD vote. Or a delegate passionate about school choice might barter for a vote and give a capital location vote in exchange.
And Alaskans’ frustrations with government would escalate.
A convention is one way for Alaska to change its constitution. The other is through amendments.
Alaska voters have passed 28 of 40 proposed amendments since the constitution was written and adopted. Clearly, the amendment method is effective.
There is no sense in messing with what works. It would only create friction among Alaskans at a time when it’s necessary to come together to rise above the challenges created over the past couple of years.
Alaska doesn’t need another challenge when the constitution has served well for more than six decades already. Let’s give it at least another four.