Monday, October 29, 2012

Alaska 2012 Ballot Measure One Calls For A Constitutional Convention; Alaska Media Outlets Leading The Charge Against It

Update November 7th: With 98.6 percent of votes counted, Ballot Measure One failed with 68.07 percent voting No.

On November 6th, 2012, Alaskans will also be asked to weigh in on two ballot initiatives. Bonding Proposition A, addressed at length in this previous post, asks voters' permission to issue $453,499,200 in general obligation bonds to pay for various state transportation projects not included in the capital budget.

Ballot Measure 1 will also appear, asking voters if there should be a constitutional convention; this question appears every 10 years. However, when I visited the Alaska Division of Elections website, I found that only the language of the measure is provided, to wit: "Shall there be a constitutional convention?". There are no pro or con statements, and it's not even listed in the Alaska Voter Guides.

Why is this measure on the ballot? It's required by Article 13, Paragraph 3 of the Alaska State Constitution, which states "If during any ten-year period a constitutional convention has not been held, the lieutenant governor shall place on the ballot for the next general election the question: 'Shall there be a Constitutional Convention?'". A negative vote means the question doesn't come up again for another ten years, while a positive vote requires that delegates to a convention be chosen at the next regular statewide election (2014), unless the legislature provides for the election of the delegates at a special election.

So what would happen at a constitutional convention? Many of the questions submitted to voters in ballot initiatives would be discussed; prospective amendments to the State Constitution could be crafted. A good historical reference is the account of the first constitutional convention held from November 8th, 1955 to February 6th, 1956. Voters would still have to approve of any changes stemming from a convention.

The question of a constitutional convention has attracted a variety of opinion from several influential sources. While populists from both sides of the proverbial aisle favor it, media outlets are leading the charge against it. Summaries are presented after the jump:

Casey Reynolds, a political talk show host and the proprietor of Northern Right, advocates a Yes vote. Although there has been much talk about doing something with issues such as school choice, moving the capital, and reforming the selection process of the Alaska Supreme Court, very little progress has been made on these issues. Reynolds suggests that the existing bar to change the State Constitution (two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature and majority approval of the voters) is too high.

The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) advocates a Yes vote via an affirmative resolution at the 2012 AFN Conference. They maintain a convention would allow AFN to pursue amendments to the state constitution calling for a subsistence hunting and fishing priority for Alaska Natives and to expand the size of the state legislature in order to ensure more rural and Alaska Native lawmakers serve in Juneau. This has attracted considerable criticism from non-Natives, many who consider it racist.

Former Attorney General John Havelock (1970-73) advocates a Yes vote. On August 17th, 2012, in an ADN Comment entitled "Constitutional convention can work to repair Alaska politics", Havelock suggested that a convention would accomplish four goals. First, it would refine legislative reapportionment to better follow the constitutional directive to create contiguous and compact districts containing a relatively integrated socio-economic area. Unfortunately, Havelock completely overlooked the antiquated federal preclearance requirement which is a holdover from the civil rights era and which traps redistricting committees between a rock and a hard place; nothing we do will help until we get rid of that requirement.

But Havelock's other goals may be more doable. Second, he wants to change the legislature into a unicameral body of 60 lawmakers. The smaller districts would allow constituents a better chance to evaluate their representative on a person-to-person basis. Third, he wants to strengthen the power of the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) by putting it under an inspector general, prohibited from later running for office, with investigative powers over violations of ethical conduct and criminal conduct in both the legislative and executive branches, and have them replace the Lt. Gov. as the supervisor of elections. And finally, Havelock wants to limit corporate participation in election funding through the facilitation of corporate democracy.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorially advocates a No vote. Unlike Casey Reynolds, the News-Miner does not consider the existing bar to change the State Constitution to be insurmountable, noting that legislators have proposed 40 constitutional amendments 40 times since statehood, after which voters approved of 28 and rejected 12. The News-Miner fears that a convention would open the constitution to innumerable amendments all at once, attracting the attention of special interests who could seek to influence the process by spending enormous amounts of money.

The Anchorage Daily News editorially advocates a No vote. ADN considers the existing amendment process adequate, noting that the fact that Alaskans have never voted to call a new convention since statehood testifies to the quality of their work. ADN also cites input from Vic Fischer, one of the delegates to the original state constitutional convention, who explained "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".

The Juneau Empire editorially advocates a No vote. They simply reprinted the Anchorage Daily News editorial three days later.

The Anchorage Daily Planet editorially advocates a No vote. They consider the existing amendment process adequate, and they fear a convention would unleash partisan chaos. They say there simply is no limit on the amount of mischief a constitutional convention could trigger, and what almost certainly would be lost in such a melee is the somewhat rational form of government Alaskans have enjoyed, to be supplanted by the whim du jour. They also note the Laegue of Women Voters in Alaska is opposed to the measure.

Considering that we do get proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot regularly, and considering the hostile rhetoric employed by extremists on both sides of many issues, I'm with the media on this one. I'm leaning towards a No vote.

1 comment:

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