Voters to decide constitutional convention question

A convention has never been enacted, if approved it’s uncertain how that process would proceed
A convention has never been enacted, if approved it’s uncertain how that process would proceed
Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 7:20 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The only ballot measure to come before Alaskan voters this year has also stirred up controversy.

The issue is whether voters will approve a constitutional convention, which only appears on the ballot before Alaskan voters once every 10 years. So far, it has never been enacted, but people on both sides of the issue feel it could go either way this time. Each side has an opinion on how its approval could change the financial future and political landscape of the entire state of Alaska.

Convention supporters say there are a number of needed changes that are long overdue, and Alaska’s outdated constitution is in need of a major overhaul. Those opposing the constitutional convention say that a convention would be like opening Pandora’s box, since each issue in the constitution would then be left wide open for changes.

“Industry groups, like the miners, and sportsmens and hunters, fishing groups that have all said, we have looked at this, we think it’s serious, we think that this would impact investment, jobs, the economy, investment in our communities, and they think it would have a chilling effect,” said Defend our Constitution Spokesperson Matt Shuckerow.

Since Alaska’s constitution was adopted in 1956, it has never been subjected to a complete review or possible rewrite potentially undertaken by a constitutional convention.

“You look over our history, Alaskans have overwhelmingly rejected it,” Shuckerow said.

Convention supporter Bob Bird has become an outspoken critic of those who denounce a convention. Bird chairs the Alaskan Independence Party and works with the Convention Yes group. He feels Alaska has deep problems that can only be resolved by overhauling large portions of the original state constitution.

“We are not able to even make our state government ends meet because of this unconstitutional control of our state by the federal government — and the state government — because we accepted those terms,” Bird said.

He believes the pioneers of Alaska’s original constitution never intended to give the federal government carte blanche control of the state’s land and natural resources.

One thing both sides agree on is that if voters approve a convention, the next steps aren’t exactly clear. As for the rules and representation, those issues would be determined by the members of the Legislature. A number of delegates of the new convention would then be selected, but that would have to wait until the next regular election, unless the Legislature called a special election. The quantity of delegates that would then be chosen and which areas they’d represent would have to be decided as well. After all that, voters would still have to approve any suggested changes.

“I will work with legislators at, and I know I’ve already been working with them verbally okay, but I would work to discuss what rules the convention should have,” Bird said.

Bird is confident that the process would work smoothly, but Shuckerow feels that a convention would be chaotic.

“It means that there is a four-to-six-year process in which we continue the battle over our most hotly contested issues a once-in-a-generation playing field that we don’t know what it even looks like,” Shuckerow said.

A report prepared by the Legislative Affairs Agency for the state legislature makes it clear, “the power of a convention to propose constitutional changes cannot be limited.”

The Alaska constitution states that if legislators can’t agree on the convention’s rules, they’ll have to adhere “as closely as possible” to the original process used back in 1955.

“It is a Pandora’s box, where you just don’t know what’s going to come out at the back end,” says Joelle Hall, co-chair of the “no on one” campaign.

“I would say we’re not opening up Pandora’s box,” Bird said. “We’re opening up the ballot box.”