What others say: Welcome to polarized Alaska

  • Sunday, July 17, 2016 8:07pm
  • Opinion

This week, the Empire published the results of a survey that indicated vast support among Alaskans for an amendment to the state constitution calling for term limits.

We support this idea, but we do not believe it will fix the state’s core problem. Alaska’s electoral districts have become polarized and no longer permit the easy election of legislators open to compromise and cooperation.

Under the hypothetical term limits amendment, state senators would be limited to two terms (eight years) and state representatives would be limited to three terms (six years).

The survey conducted in late June by Ivan Moore’s Anchorage-based firm found that three-quarters of Alaskans favor such an amendment.

Incumbency brings enormous power, and the amendment might prevent the development of career politicians. It has drawbacks, however. The longer someone works in a particular job, the more skilled they become. They understand how the machinery works, and they understand how to best use it. Furthermore, a term limits amendment would deny choice. If the voters of districts like their representatives in the statehouse, they would be unable to keep them.

Legislators alone aren’t the problem. It’s the districts they represent.

You’ve probably heard the term “gerrymandering.” It’s the idea of drawing districts in ways that enfranchise one party over another.

Alaska is supposed to have a system that avoids gerrymandering. In 1998, voters approved a constitutional amendment that set up the procedure.

Every decade, Alaska appoints a five-member commission to redraw the state’s districts based upon the results of the new census. The members of that commission are selected by the Governor, Senate President, Speaker of the House and Chief Justice.

In 2010, John Torgerson, Bob Brodie, Marie Greene, Jim Holm and PeggyAnn McConnochie filled the five-person board.

Whether through ignorance, neglect or deliberate political strategy, they created the problem we face today. The districts they drew (and then redrew after a lawsuit) polarized the Legislature. Republican districts are now very Republican. Democratic districts are now very Democratic.

For evidence, you need only look at this fall’s election slate. In a year when all 50 people should face challengers, fully 20 percent are running unopposed. In a year when the Legislature has been excoriated for inaction, many legislators will return to office by default.

From 2006 through 2012, the Alaska Senate Bipartisan Working Group saw six Republicans and 10 Democrats work together on issues affecting Alaskans. This was a grand coalition that sought the middle and achieved it. When problems arose, such as the VECO scandal, they were addressed through legislative action.

As soon as the new districts were drawn, this bipartisan group collapsed. We are now faced with a polarized Legislature that is paralyzed just when we need it most.

We have a critical financial crisis to face, and the only agreement in the Legislature is to ignore it. There is little interest in compromise and cooperation.

Term limits will not solve this problem. This is an issue that goes beyond that. It is ingrained in the very lines we have drawn on the map.

— Juneau Empire,

July 15

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