Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has pledged to go after Alaska’s constitutional right to an abortion if reelected, finally confirmed this week he supports a constitutional convention where abortion rights—as well as judicial independence and a bevy of other issues—would be on the table.
The governor made his position clear during a yes-or-no round of questions at this week’s gubernatorial forum hosted by the Alaska Resource Development Council where candidates were asked if they supported a constitutional convention. Previously, the governor had spoken glowingly about a constitutional convention—which voters have the option of calling every ten years—but stopped short of directly advocating for the vote.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, it appears to be the first time a sitting governor has ever supported a potentially complete overhaul of the state’s constitution. Independent opponent Bill Walker and Democratic opponent Les Gara both said they opposed a constitutional convention while far-right Republican candidate Charlie Pierce said he would support a convention.
While the decennial question of calling a constitutional convention has typically been a non-mover, long-time advocates for altering the constitution have seized upon the unresolved fight over the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend—an issue that’s been central to Dunleavy’s electoral success—as the driver for this year’s vote. But key advocates are clear that it’s just the start.
“The PFD is the spark but when you the spark like that and there’s no limit to what a constitutional convention might produce,” said Alaskan Independence Party chairman Bob Bird, a long-time advocate for far-reaching constitutional changes. “Then we can look at the incredibly long list of things that need correcting.”
The scope of the constitutional convention would be up to the elected delegates to decide, but Bird and company have proposed a litany of other far-right positions like outlawing abortion, giving the governor the power to interpret law and the option to ignore the Alaska Supreme Court, making public education optional and banning government employees from voting in some elections.
Dunleavy has been similarly keen on altering the Alaska Constitution both while in the Legislature and as governor. He’s taken aim at the makeup of the judge-screening Alaska Judicial Council as part of an effort to swing the judiciary to the right, proposed enshrining the dividend in the constitution as well as a change that would set a strict spending limit for the state budget and a measure that would make it near-impossible to ever implement new taxes.
Following the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Dunleavy announced that if re-elected he would put forward a constitutional amendment to the Legislature.
“I, like many Alaskans, am pro-life,” Dunleavy said at the time. “I also recognize that many Alaskans are pro-choice. The recent decision by the Supreme Court returns the issue of abortion back to the states. I believe this presents an opportunity for the people of Alaska, not a handful of elected officials or appointed judges, to decide the future of abortion in Alaska.”
Amending the Alaska Constitution through the Legislature, though, has proved to be a dead-end for many of Dunleavy’s proposed changes because it requires a two-thirds majority of each chamber to advance a proposed constitutional amendment to a public vote. A constitutional convention, while a lengthy and uncertain process, would avoid that high bar and make it easier to explicitly deny abortions.
Dunleavy’s on-the-record announcement of his position on the constitutional convention drew a quick response from former Gov. Walker on Twitter.
“Dunleavy has removed all doubt, he’s coming for women’s right to choose, and he is going to use a ConCon to get there, and he’ll succeed if re-elected,” his campaign wrote. “This cannot happen. The purpose of the ConCon is clear and when I said I will veto any legislation that limits a woman’s right to choose I mean it.”