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Alaska needs a ballot measure to end all ballot measures

Dorene M. Lorenz

It is sadly ironic that one can't legally get rid of ballot initiatives through a ballot initiative.

If you could, I would dedicate my entire summer to standing out in front of Anchorage big box stores asking people if they were registered voters, and then promising in a strong, compelling voice that if folks would just sign this petition, they would never be harassed by people doing petition drives ever again.

I am feeling very secure in my ability to get the magic number of signatures to qualify for a nod from the lieutenant governor.

An obvious effort in futility, there are a learned few who suggest that I should do it anyway. They tell me that the Division of Elections would let the petition roll, the lieutenant governor would certify my signatures, the measure would go on the ballot, and a crazy amount of money would be made by two out-of-state public relations firms and their contractors. The measure would pass, and it would be implemented.

At that point, someone would have to apply for an initiative and be rejected in order to be able to sue. The case would bounce through the Alaska court system, snowballing attorneys fees all the way.

After artificially boosting the health of certain economic sectors at the expense of others, the staggering opportunity costs of the distraction of my measure-banning measure may be tabulated by ISER, but would never gain the attention of the media.

Eventually the courts would determine what most figured in the first place -- you can't amend the Alaska Constitution with a ballot measure.

Which begs the question, why not? If ballot measures reflected the best practices in crafting law -- why shouldn't you be able to?

Some argue that ballot measures usurp the democratic process of duly elected officials holding recorded public hearings as the measure makes its way through specialized committees that look at the different aspects of the concern.

They also bypass the sound practice of having bills vetted by a well-trained legal department to make sure they met the legislative intent, didn't create inherent conflict with laws already on the books, didn't create unintended consequences, and had all the components necessary to make the legislation structurally sound.

And let's not forget the nod to the separation of powers that is the foundation of our system of government -- the powerful stroke of the governor's pen checked and balanced by the ability of the majority to override his veto.

I would argue that the ballot measure process is the power of an emotionally charged mob fueled by special interest money to side-step our carefully crafted, time-proven process.

The Alaska ballot measure was created in a time of second-guessing. A roomful of folks in Fairbanks were aware they were embarking on a new and unique social studies experiment with real world implications when they created the Alaska Constitution. None of them had done it before. The learning curve was steep, and the risk high, so they built in exit strategies in case things didn't work out like they intended: A ten-year constitutional convention and the ballot measure process.

Alaskans have never felt the need to open Pandora's box and hold a constitutional convention, but over the years, ballot measures have increasingly become well-funded publicity stunts that create more harm than good.

They get us sidetracked, re-appropriating scant resources to fight campaigns that time and again have been demonstrated to be fueled by those who are unwilling or unable to successfully make it through the legislative process ... often for good reason.

Ballot measure fights take the public's eye off the game, and that is what makes them so dangerous. Once passed, it is years before the Legislature is able to consider how to stem any damage, and those who are harmed in the meantime are never made whole.

I did an informal survey of a dozen legislators on this topic. Most suggested it would be political suicide for them to introduce such a measure, which is probably true. No one wants to tell a constituent that their choices are being limited for the collective good. The collective good needs to explain that.

It would take a well-funded campaign to educate the public on the issue, and how would you ever get the resources together for that discussion ... except by filing a ballot measure.

Dorene M. Lorenz, a fourth-generation Alaskan from Seward, produces and hosts ABC's "Alaska Political Insider." She has served on the Seward City Council and the Seward Historic Preservation Commission, and recently on the Anchorage Art Commission. She is a published novelist and an award winning artist.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.