This editorial originally appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
Every 10 years, Alaskans decide whether to take a serious look at the Alaska Constitution and consider fundamental changes to our basic of self-governance.
It’s a good question to ask once a decade. Our constitution isn’t writ in stone. Fifty-five Alaskans of good will wrote it in Fairbanks in the mid-50s. They didn’t bring it down from the mountain.
But the fact that Alaskans have seen fit never to call a new convention testifies to the quality of their work.
That work has been interpreted and challenged; we’ve voted to amend our founding document 28 times since statehood in 1959; we’ve rejected a dozen amendments. Alaskans have used the amendment process to create the Permanent Fund, ban gender discrimination, define the individual right to own firearms and limit the regular legislative session to 90 days. The amendment process is painstaking — three fourths of the Legislature must vote to put amendments before the voters — but has sufficed to respond to changing times and questions that the founders of 1955-56 couldn’t have foreseen.
That still suffices.
Former attorney general John Havelock, who writes a column for these pages, has called for such a convention. He’s argued for a unicameral legislature, tighter controls on corporate money in politics, a nonpartisan method for apportioning election districts. His arguments are worthy of debate, but don’t rise to the level of needing to reconvene on the fundamentals. We’ll take the view of another elder statesman, Vic Fischer, one of the delegates to state constitutional convention, that he expressed in September on APRN’s “Talk of Alaska.”
Fischer said we live in a divisive time, our politics given to extremes and the spirit of compromise viewed with contempt. Spike that brew with lobbyists and the power of special interests, and a constitutional convention begins to look like a good venue for bad ideas.
Yet fear of extremes or the current divisiveness isn’t our primary motive for opposing a convention. It’s more a matter of pride and the test of time.
The Alaska Constitution reaffirms the bedrock rights espoused by the nation’s founders, provides a clear, deliberate amendment process and remains a solid guide to the balance between our individual liberties and our corresponding obligations to the people and the state. Those are qualities that will outlast ideological fashion — or greed and selfishness cloaked in ideology.
In short, the Alaska Constitution works. We should never take it for granted; that’s why the same founders who did such good work included a 10-year reopener. This time, the answer is again no. Alaskans can give it a fresh look in 10 years.
There is no need for Alaska to call a constitutional convention.