Last week, Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy named former Fairbanks Libertarian legislator Dick Randolph to his transition team with the title of special adviser on “constitutional reform.”
The Republican’s newfound attention to altering the state constitution (at least beyond the permanent fund dividend) came as a bit of a surprise, prompting some to ask: Just what does Dunleavy have in mind?
Well, there’s some clues, particularly when it comes to Randolph.
Randolph, 82, hasn’t been directly involved in politics since the 1980s when he ran for Alaska governor after championing an effort that pushed legislators to repeal the income tax, but he’s always had other ideas about what needs to be changed in Alaska.
He’s long had his sights set on the Alaska Constitution and its “socialist” elements. Randolph explained his cause in a 2014 interview with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (thanks to Pat Race, @alaskarobotics, for digging this up).
“I always thought the state constitution is awful,” he said. “We have the only socialist economic system that is constitutionally mandated. All sub-surface wealth is mandated to be owned by the state, so we can’t have a private economy.”
The story explains that Randolph’s last big goal would be calling a constitutional convention to open the constitution to end the state’s ownership of subsurface mineral rights (and potentially a flurry of other changes). Those mineral rights are a key piece of Alaska’s statehood, requiring that state resources of Alaska be developed “for the maximum benefit of its people.”
It’s those very subsurface rights, which lead to the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund, that enabled the state to repeal its personal income tax (at Randolph’s pressuring) and later establish the PFD (Randolph doesn’t seem to extend the same socialist label to the PFD or the Alaska Permanent Fund, and in an opinion piece said Dunleavy’s support for the PFD is part of why he supported him).
News-Miner columnist Dermot Cole also delved into Randolph’s constitutional beliefs in a column, highlighting other comments that seem to point the blame at Alaska’s ills with its owner state philosophy.
“The French Revolution brought it to France; Marx and Lenin brought it to Russia. It then spread to much of the rest of the world with devastating results,” Randolph wrote in a 2006 News-Miner article highlighted by Cole. “Because of this, there truly is very little ‘primary’ private economy in Alaska today. The state, the federal government and the 12 regional Alaska Native corporations own almost all the wealth-producing capacity, and they will continue at an accelerated rate to control the economy and, hence, our social structure.”
Cole points out that any changes to the Alaska Constitution are made difficult by the high barrier of votes needed for the Legislature to place an amendment on the ballot, but that’s where Randolph’s other goal comes into play: the constitutional convention.
The Alaska Constitution contains provisions that could throw the doors wide open to changes. We’ve really only seen this though the constitutional convention question that appears on the state ballot every ten years–and voters have regularly rejected the idea of opening the constitution to broad changes–but the Legislature could also call a convention. If called, the state then set about electing delegates and hold a convention as similar as possible to the original one in 1955-19565, and any changes made at the convention would then be up to voters to ratify.
A spokesperson for Dunleavy’s transition team had not yet responded to a request for comment on the constitutional convention, but promoting private sector development of resources and transferring public land into private hands has been one of Dunleavy’s early promises after election day.
Other constitutional ‘reforms’
The top constitutional priority for Dunleavy will, of course, be the permanent fund dividend.
“You can certainly count on the PFD being one of them,” said Dunleavy transition spokeswoman Sarah Erkmann Ward told the Juneau Empire on Friday.
Dunleavy’s also supported lifting the constitutional prohibition on public money going to private or religious schools so the state could implement some kind of voucher program (though he refused to talk about the shape of such program) and also supported another amendment that would have realigned the Alaska Judicial Council with a goal of promoting more conservative judges.
Both measures fell well short of the high bar needed for the Alaska Legislature to put amendments up to a public vote. Resolutions require two-thirds of each chamber to (14 in the Senate and 27 in the House). It’s a number that the Senate may be able to reach depending on political alignments this session, but Republicans will be far short of that number in the House.
Just how would those measures fare at a constitutional convention? Who knows. They weren’t popular enough to even pass through the Legislature, but combine them with a constitutional amendment to enshrine the PFD? That could be another story.