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My Turn: Ballot Measure 1: Shall there be a Constitutional Convention?

Posted: October 23, 2012 - 12:00am

The ballot measure question is an automatic provision of the Alaska Constitution

that guarantees voters a chance to decide at least once every ten years (after the Census) if a constitutional convention should be held. Alaska is one of the few states that have this provision.

The League of Women Voters of Alaska (LWVAK) believes a constitutional convention is unnecessary, costly and has unintended consequences. We urge Alaskans to vote “NO”.

Unnecessary: A constitutional convention is unnecessary at this time. Although there are criticisms of government in Alaska, the problems are not with the Constitution but how it is implemented. While certain issues prompt intense public interest, a constitutional convention is NOT the best way to address these issues.

The Alaska Constitution is considered a “model” constitution nationwide. It is a flexible and concise document that can adapt to changing needs. IF constitutional changes are necessary, Article XIII of Alaska’s Constitution provides for two methods of amending the Constitution:

1. A resolution passed by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature which is then placed on the ballot of the next general election as a ballot measure. The ballot measure requires a majority vote for passage.

2. The legislature may call a constitutional convention at any time.

Of the various issues suggested as a reason for holding a constitutional convention, all can be accomplished through the amendment process, IF there is the political will to do so.

The Alaska Constitution has been amended 28 times as of 2006. Those amendments approved covered a wide variety of issues: residency, age, district and language requirements to vote, Commission on Judicial Qualifications, prohibition of sexual discrimination, right of privacy, limited entry fisheries, voting on constitutional amendments at general elections, authorizing the Permanent Fund, limiting appropriation increases and establishing a Budget Reserve Fund, among other issues. Twelve proposed amendments were rejected by the voters.

Costly: The cost of holding a constitutional convention has not been determined, but undoubtedly it would be large. Article XIII, Section 3. Call by Referendum, provides:

The appropriation provisions of the call for a convention shall be self-executing and shall constitute a first claim on the state treasury. (Emphasis added)

This means the cost of a constitutional convention takes precedence over funding of all other state functions, including public safety, education, fish and game management and other essential services.

Unintended consequences: A constitutional convention would have plenary powers to amend or revise our entire Constitution. Yes, the entire Constitution would be open to change. This could put our Constitution at risk with unlimited and unpredictable amendments being proposed by special interest groups.

The delegates to the 1955 Constitutional Convention were working towards a common goal of the establishment of a new state and how it would work. Today, with statehood well established, special interests for a myriad of causes would rule the day. Let us not sail into uncharted waters and run the risk of unnecessary changes to Alaska’s Constitution. We believe the potential losses would far outweigh any possible gains.

It is important to note voters chose not to hold a constitutional convention in 1972, 1982, 1992, and 2002. The ballot measures were defeated by large margins. In each of these elections, the LWVAK also opposed a constitutional convention. In 2012, we again oppose a constitutional convention. We urge you, the voters, to do the same.

VOTE “NO” on Ballot Measure #1 on Nov. 6th.

• Witt is President of the League of Women Voters of Alaska.

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