Alaskans soundly reject constitutional convention pushed by extreme-right abortion opponents

Constitutional convention proponent Bob Bird says “I don’t see much common sense in Anchorage” while fellow proponent Loren Leman jokingly makes a cross symbol with his hands during a debate on Sept. 29, 2022.

It turns out the more Alaskans hear about a constitutional convention, the less likely they’ll be to support one.

The decennial question of whether to hold a constitutional convention has traditionally been a snoozer, but this year saw a concerted campaign headlined by an effort to enshrine the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend that counted several far-right abortion opponents—including Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is the first sitting governor ever to support a convention—among its backers.

According to the latest preliminary results, the measure is failing by nearly 40%. It’s a wider margin of defeat than when the convention was last on the ballot in 2012 and there was no real campaign.

With generally left-leaning absentee and early ballots left to count, the measure is currently failing with nearly 70% of voters opposing the constitutional convention. Just 30.16% support calling a convention, which falls short of the 33.4% mark the issue received in 2012.

Supporters of the constitutional convention ostensibly rallied behind an effort to enshrine the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend payment in the Alaska Constitution, but several proponents acknowledged that it was just “the spark” for greater, far-reaching changes to the Alaska Constitution that far-right conservatives have been pushing for years.

While the shape and scope of a constitutional convention would be left to the delegates—who would be selected through some yet-to-be-determined process—the supporters of the convention had a long wish list of changes. That included revising the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause to explicitly prohibit it from protecting a person’s right to an abortion as well as altering the judicial selection process in hopes of achieving a more conservative judiciary and ending the constitution’s explicit prohibition of public funds going to private and religious schools.

“Who do you want to determine personhood?” constitutional convention supporter Bob Bird, the chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party, said about abortion during a debate in September. “Unelected judges or your friends and neighbors and their elected representatives in the Legislature?”

Opposition to the constitutional convention drew together progressives, moderates and business interests concerned about everything from the attack on abortion to the cost of the convention and the general uncertainty created by throwing the doors wide to changes. There were even a handful of hardline conservatives opposed to the convention because they weren’t confident conservatives could win enough delegate seats to control the outcome, opening the door to potentially progressive causes.

“I’m just asking you to think through the cost of this to see if we can actually get to the finish line,” said former North Pole Sen. John Coghill, a hardline abortion opponent, at a debate against Bird in February. “I don’t think at this point that it’s favorable to putting a constitution that we would personally care for. Politically, the conservative movement in Alaska right now only carries about 30-33% of the voting bloc. … It’s more than the Democrats got but it’s not more than the liberals have. … I don’t think that we have the ability at this point to convince enough voters for the reform that we would like to see.”

As has been noted, the Alaska Legislature could also vote to call a constitutional convention on their own but the preliminary results of the legislative races would make that a long shot. While the balance of power in the state Legislature will be determined by mail-in absentee ballots, it’s looking like Coghill was right and far-right conservatives don’t command enough votes to control the process.

That’s also bad news for Gov. Dunleavy’s pledge to introduce an anti-abortion constitutional amendment during the legislative session. Such a measure would require a supermajority in both chambers rather than the simple majority needed to call a convention.

As it currently stands, Democrats look likely to make gains in the state Senate after flipping two seats while moderate-leaning Republicans are faring well against their far-right opponents, setting the stage for a bipartisan coalition to take control of the Senate. The House, which is currently held by a bipartisan majority, is more up in the air with several races tightening in Democrats’ favor as the absentee and early votes have been tallied.

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