Changing Alaska's Constitution should not be taken lightly

My turn

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2000

By now the Alaska public has been pummeled with numerous reasons and arguments for and against Proposition 1 prohibiting wildlife issues from being decided by initiative. Who is right and who is wrong?

Changing Alaska's Constitution should not be taken lightly. The framers established a system of checks and balances between our legislative, executive and judicial. However, they reserved the ultimate initiation or repeal authority for the people via the initiative and referendum processes, for when political decision-making goes astray.

Only when compelling evidence exists that this delicate balance needs to be tempered should we be willing to modify our state constitution.

Of the ongoing wrangling, only two reasons have surfaced that would dictate action by the voter. The first one is the concern that outside interests funded by animal rights groups would usurp the present system purported to be strictly based on biological science with input from regional advisory boards.

Though this concern has merit, the solution rectifying this problem lies with changing our laws pertaining to financing campaigns. The people of Alaska are being disenfranchised by external big money and high- heeled lobbyist in every sector from insurance regulation to actions associated with the oil patch. You only have to look at the money that moves from lobbyists to various candidates and soft money groups to know that influence buying is alive and well.

The only other argument that can be made is that Alaska's Boards of Fish and Game can make much better decisions than the public when managing wildlife. Three myths are associated with this line of thinking.

First, since the boards are set up as quasi-government functionaries, boards will not be subject to political whims of the legislative and executive. The problem with this argument lies not only in the appointment process of the respective board members, but it also ignores the political reality of who funds their budgets. In my experiences auditing the Alaska government process, very few appointed board members were willing to cut the political grain when dealing with the forces who appointed them.

The second myth is all board members are objective in thought when making decisions on wildlife matters. Whether for personal or other reasons, many of them have predisposed opinions on how Alaska's wildlife should be managed. The laws surrounding the appointment process could be changed to minimize inherent biases and motives of appointees. Again, our constitution need not be changed for this flaw.

The final myth is that all board members' decisions will be biologically sound and not encumbered or influenced by external sources. This is the Achilles heel of proponents' arguments. For the most part, the operational results of our wildlife boards decision-making have been satisfactory. However, a few fractures in the crucible indeed illustrate that not all decision-making has been based solely on biological deliberations. One only has to consider the excessive harvesting that took place years ago in the red king crab and shrimp fisheries around Kodiak, which resulted in lengthy harvesting moratoriums. Also the decision to transport a game species to SE Alaska despite the biological unsoundness of such action.

Until other aspects of our system are changed to minimize influencing the board process, those managing fish and game in this state should expect some degree of ballot box biology. Voting no on Proposition 1 will preserve our voting rights to accept or reject any governmental action relating to fish and game management considered unacceptable by the Alaska people.

Jenson is a CPA who has 28 years of experience in auditing Alaska's governmental programs, departments and boards.

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