Opinion – The PFD and a Convention

The following column originally appeared on Must Read Alaska.

Why does our Constitution give us the chance, every 10 years, to call for a constitutional convention?  The answer is in Article I, sec. 2, which declares “All political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people.” If this is true, the people must have the right to intervene in the normal workings of their government, when the necessity arises. 

In the 62 years since the Alaska Constitution went into effect, such an intervention has not been needed. Now, for the first time, it clearly is. Alaska’s politicians have failed to resolve the future of the Permanent Fund Dividend. 

Partisan and personal rivalries have divided the Legislature into two warring factions. One wants the so-called full dividend, according to a formula adopted in the 1980s, which was followed until 2015. 

Another feels the state needs much or most of this money to provide the government services that Alaskans are accustomed to.

For the past five years these two factions have been at war with one another, and legislative sessions are dominated by this issue. Countless special sessions have been called. 

Nothing seems to work. Legislators, and governors, come and go. Elections are held. Promises are made. There’s no reason to hope that more elections, and new people, will change a thing.

If our politicians can’t resolve this issue, the people can. They must vote for a convention, and then elect delegates who they know and trust. They must closely monitor the deliberations of the convention, and in the end they must decide if the solution offered is acceptable.

Are the people of Alaska capable of this? Are there qualified men and women who are able and willing to serve as delegates? What are we afraid of? Ourselves?

They won’t admit it, but those opposed to a convention are afraid of the people.  They feel they can’t be trusted with this kind of power. Left unsaid is the belief that only an elite is qualified for such weighty matters, and the people aren’t.  

Or maybe the real reason for their opposition is that they just don’t like the dividend. In fact, the convention would have only one power, the power to propose amendments. And then it’s up to the people to decide. Yes or no? Is the solution offered acceptable? I think the people of this state are perfectly capable of exercising this power responsibly. So did the men and women who wrote our Constitution. Do you? If you don’t trust the people, who do you trust?  Some elite?

That’s not the Alaska way. That’s not the American way. There’s much more that needs to be discussed on this issue, and everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. We have a little less than a year before we, collectively, render our decision at the ballot box. I will continue to argue, as forcefully as I can, that the people should trust themselves. And that if you want the dividend, you should vote for the convention.

Fritz Pettyjohn got his start in Alaska politics working for Governor Jay Hammond, who was responsible for beginning the permanent fund dividend program.