In 1776, “The Consent of the Governed” was Non-Negotiable. What is Its Status in Alaska Today?

(Cathy Giessel, Bryce Edgmon and Lisa Murkowski at the Alaska Capitol Building, 2/19/19)

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress declared that all governments derive their just powers from “the consent of the governed.” King George argued that point, and we fought an 8-year war to settle the matter. At least it was settled for a time.

Our Alaska State Constitution, written in 1956, is crystal clear on this point and its words could have been lifted from the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776:

Art. I, Sec. II. Source of Government
“All political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole.”

And yet, the thinking of most of our elected officials in Juneau today is of a very different sort than what Americans celebrated at the end of the Revolutionary War. In fact, to those who have never walked the halls of the Juneau capitol building, the contrast frequently defies belief.

Allow me to unpack where we are at today (spoiler alert: it’s not a pretty picture).

Rep. Bryce Edgmon currently presides over the Alaska House of Representatives. He has been quite frank about the value that legislators should place on the consent of Alaskans when it comes to the decisions that are made in Juneau: “…with or without the public’s consent we have to make some tough choices.

Did you catch that? The leader of the Alaska State House is on record declaring openly and publicly that he means to govern with, or without, the consent of the governed, and he is actively encouraging other Alaska legislators to do the same. He is encouraging your legislators to do the same.

And many of them are. From the moment they set foot in Juneau, legislators are exposed to the siren song of lobbyists and staffers extolling their good judgment and wisdom. “The people don’t understand—You know better. They don’t have access to all the information you have.” The Swamp lays it on thick.

Alaskans voted to move the capital. Twice. Legislators chose to drag their heels.

Alaskans voted to limit legislative sessions to 90 days per year or 180 days every two years (for perspective, this is 40 days longer than Texans currently allow their legislators, and Texas has a population of 29 million people). After the law passed, legislators in Juneau simply chose to ignore the law.

The people voted in a landslide election, not to divert funds from the PFD to help balance the state budget. Legislators have voted each of the last four years to do it anyway, and have repeatedly refused to authorize a second vote of the people on the PFD.

Alaska legislators have—for years—perpetuated the practice of binding themselves to vote against the very constituents they were elected to serve by selling their votes in advance to the Binding Caucus.

Legislators are required by state law to gather the consent of either the governor or legislators representing three-quarters of the people of Alaska (45 legislators) in order to choose the location of a special session. They tried, but were unable to obtain that consent. What did they do? They simply pretended as though they had it. Instead of holding session in a location that 75% of Alaskans can drive to, they holed up in Juneau, a location that only 4% of Alaskans can drive to.

Alaskans warned legislators not to pass SB91. They did it anyway. Alaskans then demanded its repeal. Legislators instead dug their heels in and resisted our efforts to repeal SB91 for three long years.

Alaskans are guaranteed the right to vote on incurring new debts (bonds) in the Alaska Constitution. In 2018, legislators passed a $1 billion dollar bond package but then voted against sending it to the people for a vote. For those who might be tempted to think acknowledging government’s reliance on the consent of the governed is a Republican/Democrat issue—it’s not. Only one other member of the Republican Minority (Rep. Mark Neuman) joined me in voting to send the bond package to the people for a vote.

In the Alaska Constitution, the people are guaranteed the right to repeal any new law passed by the legislature. When legislators added language in state law relating to the PFD two years ago, they deliberately extended the length of the legislative session to 115 days, and in doing so prevented the people from exercising that right for at least 2 years after the law was passed. Now, more than two years later, Alaskans are still waiting for that opportunity.

Not a Republican/Democrat Issue
I mentioned earlier that the willingness of our elected officials to circumvent the consent of the people is not a Republican or a Democrat issue. It’s an Alaska issue. What Americans fought to establish for all time through the American Revolutionary War is now considered an open question by our elected representatives in Juneau.

It is also an issue that has been front and center in my own race this week. I am running to represent one of the most Republican districts in the state. It is not uncommon for Republican candidates to receive more than 75% of the vote in my district. Even so, my Republican opponent and I have diametrically opposing views on this fundamental issue.

This week, he explained on the Michael Dukes Show: “If I was King for a day I would force every part of the state to incorporate into a borough” (begins @1:35:30).

I had to rewind and listen to it again.

He would force communities throughout Alaska to adopt an additional layer of government, against their will, simply for the purpose of raising their taxes. Let’s set aside the fact that the math doesn’t work, that studies have shown that the population and tax base in these communities is too small to maintain the expenses of a borough government, and that a great deal of the unorganized borough that borders the Mat-Su actually provides more natural resource revenue to the state by remaining unincorporated than it could ever hope to provide through incorporating.

Setting all that aside, we are left with two mutually exclusive positions on an issue that is so fundamental to the nature of good government that it reaches straight to bedrock. Either you believe that government must be based on the consent of the governed (the view held by the Founding Fathers, for which many Americans laid down their lives in the Revolutionary War) or you take the view that obtaining the consent of the governed isn’t needed because legislators in Juneau have the knowledge and wisdom to know what’s best and the authority to impose their will on Alaskans regardless of consent. You can probably guess which view is held by the majority of legislators in Juneau today.

The last time I wrote about my Assembly Member, Jesse Sumner, was to endorse his run for the assembly and then congratulate him on winning his race. As a candidate for the legislature, his position above differs greatly from the kind of limited government, conservative candidate that I believed I was supporting. It does not, however, differ much from the attitude of those I work with in Juneau.