I took advantage of early voting recently to add my voice to the broad and bipartisan opposition to a constitutional convention. It was not a difficult decision for me.
Despite months of hype leading up to the vote, I still have yet to hear a single compelling reason to vote yes. A November 1 op-ed here by Senator Shelley Hughes (R – Palmer) did not change that.
Putting aside the foundational absurdity of an election-denier pontificating about civics, Hughes’ piece was long on partisan talking points and strikingly short on facts or an actual explanation about why anyone should vote yes. “Much is at stake”, she declared ominously, without a hint of elaboration.
Despite a 1,000-word ramble, Senator Hughes failed to identify a single issue that she thinks is worth calling a convention over. Instead, she engaged in fear-mongering about “dark money”, surely hoping no one noticed the typical hypocrisy of elected people, who only ever object to dark money that supports candidates or causes they don’t like, while doing nothing to change the system that allows it.
Hughes’ fear-mongering extended to inaccurate characterizations of Vote No supporters, trying to paint them, a bit dishonestly, as exclusively Outside interests attempting to call the shots here.
To the contrary, the Vote No campaign is being spearheaded by a coalition of experienced and responsible Alaska leaders from across the political spectrum. They stand with an equally diverse array of statewide businesses and organizations in opposition to a convention they rightly call expensive and unnecessary.
This is no thuggish Outside Goliath coming to put down a virtuous Alaska David, as Hughes would have us believe. This is a wide swath of Alaskans of all political, social, and cultural stripes, coming together against a narrow-minded and largely intolerant minority segment of voters who are currently driving the Vote Yes bus, clamoring to fix what clearly ain’t broke.
Consider Jim Minnery, president of Alaska Family Council, an organization dedicated to opposing a woman’s right to make her own reproductive and health-care choices. Consider also Jake Libbey, publisher of the Christian nationalist propaganda blog Alaska Watchman. Both are part of the “ConventionYes” steering committee.
It is no stretch to conclude that these are not latter-day Jack Coghills and Bill Egans, helping to craft a new and somehow better Alaska Constitution based on consensus and sustainability. So it is unlikely – after the $17 million price tag and years of uncertainty before it’s all over – that a document would be produced that a majority of Alaskans would get behind.
But I did get a good chuckle out of Senator Hughes’ complaints about the ineffective State Legislature and the gridlock there that has prevented meaningful policy changes over the years. Seemed like an odd thing for her to identify as a problem, considering she has made her living as a legislator for more than a decade now, including most of the last two years as Senate majority leader.
What has she done in all this time to overcome the gridlock she accurately identifies as an obstacle to progress? Where is her leadership on this?
Has she used her constituent interactions, her periodic town hall meetings, or any of her many re-election campaigns to outline the importance of a state fiscal plan and speak the truth to her constituents about the fiscal realities facing Alaska? Or has she pandered, like so many other elected people, to the libertarian socialist portion of the electorate, who demand to be free from the imagined tyranny of government, while simultaneously demanding a handout every fall?
Perhaps the most breathtakingly tone-deaf question posed by Hughes in her op-ed was “do we really want to leave the fiscal and cultural hot button issues to the gridlocked legislature …?” With apologies for answering a question with a question, isn’t this the very thing we elect legislators to do?
Her question unwittingly hits on the real solution, though.
Alaska doesn’t need a constitutional convention, it needs better leaders. It needs leaders with the vision to see beyond the next Permanent Fund check. It needs leaders who will speak the truth to constituents, even when it may not be popular.
We need to elect more statesmen and fewer rigid ideologues. We need more Clem Tillions, Jay Hammonds, and Hugh Malones. Effective leaders like Ted Stevens, Don Young, Curt Menard and Carl Gatto all understood that compromise is not a bad word, and that it’s a necessary ingredient for meaningful public policy.
I will agree vigorously with Senator Hughes, though, on one point – that Alaska is at a crossroads. I just disagree, equally vigorously, that a constitutional convention is the answer.
The crossroads we are facing can only be navigated by principled leaders who put the state ahead of personal and political interests. Never has Alaska more desperately needed elected officials who understand that without a vibrant future that offers paths of opportunity for Alaska families and businesses, outmigration and economic decline will continue here.
Election Day is November 8. Early balloting remains an option until then. If you haven’t done so already, please vote like it matters.
Mark Kelsey is a retired journalist who lives near Wasilla.