Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks to constituents during a town hall at the Funny River Community Center in Funny River, Alaska on Jan. 9, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks to constituents during a town hall at the Funny River Community Center in Funny River, Alaska on Jan. 9, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)

A ‘yes’ vote for a constitutional convention is a ‘yes’ vote for justice

The issue of justice reform unites Alaskans from rural villages and urban centers alike

  • By Ben Carpenter
  • Tuesday, October 25, 2022 11:18pm
  • Opinion

By Ben Carpenter

Alaskans have been asking for justice from our judicial system for a long time. Too many Alaskans see the law applied to protect those with money and power but not those without. The simple truth is that Alaskans need a greater say in selecting judges to break the cycle of injustice in our communities. Improving our judiciary can only happen with a constitutional amendment that reforms Article 4, Section 8 of our State Constitution that empowers four Alaskans on the Judicial Council to choose a list of lawyers the governor must choose a judicial appointment from.

The issue of justice reform unites Alaskans from rural villages and urban centers alike. It also energizes out-of-state interests determined to protect the status quo, which is why there is so much dark money being spent on a “no” vote on a constitutional convention this year.

Alaskans have the authority to demand a constitutional amendment, but Alaskans only have the power to secure one through a constitutional convention. Here’s why: A constitutional amendment is passed with a simple majority vote during a constitutional convention. The Legislature can also pass constitutional amendments but requires a 2/3 majority vote to do so. This super-majority vote is an impossible hurdle to overcome given the makeup of our Legislature. The drafters of our State Constitution foresaw times like this when they included the provision for the people to decide once a decade whether to call a constitutional convention or not. The purpose of the convention is to bypass a dysfunctional Legislature and enable Alaskans to create their own constitutional amendments.

For decades justice in our villages has been elusive for too many Native Alaskans. For decades Alaskan businesses have been asking for an effective spending limit. For decades Alaskans have been asking for the Legislature to be relocated from Juneau, including a successful ballot initiative. For decades the permanent fund dividend program worked for Alaskans and now it has been ruled unconstitutional by the judiciary and ignored by the Legislature. For decades our government has ignored Alaskans’ pleas for action and these important issues have continually been allowed to divide us. If Alaskans want to stop being divided, ordinary Alaskans need to say yes to a constitutional convention and start working together to solve our problems.

A false choice is presented between no constitutional convention and instead, successfully solving our problems under the status quo. History proves that our government will not act to correct itself. The question isn’t can things get worse with a constitutional convention. Things have been worse for too long! The question is can things get better without a constitutional convention? Do you trust your government to correct itself?

The necessity of a constitutional convention is a matter of how serious we are about the rule of law. If we want justice, Alaskans must have the courage to exercise the constitutional authority the state’s framers included in our State Constitution by voting yes for a constitutional convention.

If justice can’t be secured in a constitutional convention, we can’t preserve it in the Legislature.

The question isn’t “Will it get worse?” The question is “Will it get any better if we don’t?”

Ben Carpenter represents House District 8 on the Kenai Peninsula.

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