In 1955, my father, Yule Kilcher, was elected one of 55 delegates to help write Alaska’s Constitution. This had to be done before Alaska could ask to become a state. Delegates from cities and Bush villages representing a wide diversity of beliefs, ideas and experiences, came together toward a common goal. This goal was to achieve statehood in opposition to many Alaskans who preferred territorial status. Because these delegates were united in their mission, they were able to compromise on even the most thorny issues. Regardless of their political affiliations, men and women worked side by side for the benefit of all Alaskans, respectfully and without rhetoric. They learned from each other, honored differences of opinion, and to the best of their ability, crafted solutions that included everyone’s perspective. My father was a liberal and proud of it, having immigrated from Switzerland, which has many parties, not just two. He thought the two-party system inadequate, divisive and prone to extremism. Alaskans being an independent lot, it was difficult for him to convince some members that liberal social programs and laws that benefited the “little guy” would ultimately serve the good of all. Many of his left-leaning views worked their way into the Constitution, as did the ideas of many who thought very differently from him. The result: one of the best, most inclusive and progressive constitutions ever written, and amazingly it took only two months to accomplish!
Yule Kilcher was a forward-thinking man, he knew change is inevitable. Therefore he was an advocate of the idea of giving folks the chance to hold a constitutional convention should it be in dire need of revising. He also believed that the original, simple document with built in room for upgrades, would allow for needed changes over time and prevent the need for a complete overhaul.
A lot has certainly happened since 1955, civil rights, women’s rights, environmental awareness, the digital revolution, you name it. Yet throughout the years there’s been enough wiggle room in our Constitution for Alaskans to address and adapt to most of these changes one way or another, whether through legislation or constitutional amendment.
Sadly, like the rest of the country, Alaska has become increasingly partisan, with various factions fortifying their positions, drawing lines in the sand, hurling blame at each other, rather than reaching out to find common ground as the founders did. Is this the kind of political climate in which we want to risk revising our time honored, tried and true constitution which has served us for almost seventy years?
We have made amendments before, and we should keep making them. But if we start from scratch, and throw out the baby with the bathwater, I fear Alaska could easily be hurled back the pre-statehood days of big outside interests and money calling the shots, controlling our resources, undermining our current rights and environmental protections, erasing needed social programs, with zealots trying to blur the division between church and state. All the progress we have made over the years, could be wiped out by the stroke of a pen. In these inflammatory, divisive and uncertain times it would be fatal for Alaskans to risk a constitutional overhaul. Vote yes for making meaningful , thoughtful changes by bringing together opposing views for wholesome solutions. Other than that, Leave well enough alone. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is the wrong time for a constitutional convention.