My turn: Alaska's leaders must follow state constitution

Posted: Friday, November 11, 2005

What do you do when your government breaks the law?

Communist Russia had a great constitution that didn't work because Russians couldn't ask their courts to enforce it.

When Alaska's Legislature passes unconstitutional laws, Alaskans can ask a judge to declare them unconstitutional and throw them out. The process is called "public interest litigation."

Alaska's courts recognize that few people will risk going to court without personal economic interests. Without people willing to challenge government, simply for the purpose of enforcing our constitution, we would have very few checks and balances. Consequently, Alaska's courts protect people who bring such complaints in two ways:

First, when public litigants bear the burden of proving the state's errors, Alaska's courts recognize them as public servants, and require the state to refund 100 percent of their costs.

Second, Alaska's courts recognize that public litigants are usually under-financed private citizens battling against a battery of well-funded state's attorneys. If the state were allowed to shackle them with the state's attorney's fees following a loss, all public litigants would eventually be bankrupted and silenced. Consequently, unless the court concludes that a public litigant's complaint was frivolous, the courts protect them from having to pay the state's attorney's fees even when they lose.

In 2003, Gov. Murkowski asked Ben Stevens to pass legislation designed to do away with those annoying lawsuits that have occasionally forced them to obey the Alaska Constitution.

The "Republican Moderate Party," which is no relation to the "Alaska Republican Party," challenged the constitutionality of the attempt to dispose of public litigation and we've won in Alaska's Superior Court.

With public litigation protections back, we were willing to risk challenging the closed primary law. We won, and the closed primary is now history.

We are now in court seeking disclosure of the "Wood Mackenzie Report." That's the report the Legislature paid $50,000 for, to find out how Alaska's oil company profits compare to the rest of the world's.

To the surprise of the legislators who ordered the report, it did not support VECO's endless cries for more oil-tax cuts. Now your VECO-sponsored Legislature is doing everything it can to keep you from seeing the report.

Gov. Murkowski has appealed the Superior Court's overturning of his attempt to do away with public litigation.

If our victory is upheld, we will soon be in court suing the Division of Elections over their decision to toss our petition to recall Ben Stevens and we'll sue the Alaska Public Offices Commission for its decision to toss our complaint regarding Ben Stevens' refusal to explain what he did to earn $2 million in consulting fees.

Previously, we sued Tony Knowles when he rewrote the lease of one of Alaska's largest oilfields, reducing the state's royalty to a fraction of what a previous oil company had offered to pay. Tony then gave that rewritten lease to his biggest contributor without competitive bid or payment to the state.

Our one volunteer attorney was overwhelmed by 32 well-paid state and BP attorneys. We lost on a technicality. Had we not been protected by the rules of public litigation, our litigating would have ended and none of the above issues would have ever been litigated.

Tom Irwin, Alaska's former commissioner of Natural Resources, was right in recently questioning the legality of Murkowski's plan to give away Alaska's gas.

Now that Ben Stevens plans to divvy up Alaska's fish between himself and a few friends has been exposed, it should come as no surprise to you that Frank Murkowski has similar plans rolled up in his plan to send Alaska's gas through Canada. It won't happen without a legal challenge from us.

And if Sen. Seekins ever gets the Legislature to approve his plan to put people in jail for accusing him of ethics violations, I promise to erect a giant billboard accusing him of ethics violations the very next day.

• Anchorage resident Ray Metcalfe is the chairman of the Republican Moderate Party.

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