ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Dick Randolph, the octogenarian Fairbanks insurance agent, former Republican and Libertarian lawmaker and staunch conservative, is Gov. Elect Mike Dunleavy’s special advisor for constitutional reform. He’s also an opponent of Alaska’s constitution, which he calls “socialist” doctrine.
What does the Randolph appointment say about the Dunleavy administration? None of the chief figures of the incoming administration returned calls: Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock, Special Assistant Brett Huber, or Randolph himself.
But last week, Dunleavy hinted at a big policy shift, the kind Randolph has suggested: putting thousands of acres of state land into private ownership.
“We are working on some ideas regarding land,” Dunleavy said during a news conference at the Alaska Miners Association Fall Convention. “We have 100 million acres of land, very little of it is in private hands. We’ve got to make a decision as a state as to what we want to do with our own state land.”
In an op-ed opinion column supporting a constitutional convention in 1992, Randolph said the constitution should be changed to allow “more private land and free enterprise.” More recently, in 2006, Randolph questioned the state constitution and the late Gov. Wally Hickel’s assertion that Alaska was an “owner state” because the state owned so much resources.
To Randolph, the “owner state” concept derived from the French Revolution of 1789 and continued through Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. “It then spread to much of the rest of the world with devastating results,” Randolph wrote.
On the other hand, private property protection in the U.S. Constitution, Randolph wrote, “built the greatest nation,” but he bemoaned the “collective morass” that has since developed in the nation.
“Alaska is the only state in the nation whose constitution dictates collective government ownership of literally all of the natural wealth of the state,” Randolph wrote. “Because of this, there truly is very little ‘primary’ private economy in Alaska today.”
The Alaska constitution has an imperative that says that “fish, wildlife and waters are reserved to the people for common use” and that even if land is sold, its resources remain the property of the state and that access must continue to be provided. In its statement on resource policy, the constitution says the state should encourage resource development “consistent with the public interest.”
A University of Alaska history professor, Ian Hartman, said the concern at the time of the constitution’s creation — the 1950s — was colonialism and the history of development in the Western states, not socialism.
“The Alaska constitution is not socialist, but there are certain provisions, and the famous one is Article VIII, which provides for the maximum benefit clause in which resources are to be used for the public interest and the maximum benefit of Alaskans, which is at odds in some cases with private development,” Hartman said. “Depending on your politics, if you are someone who looks to private industry to extract resources for private benefit, then you may have a problem with Article VIII, the maximum benefit clause. If however, you’re somebody who sees a value in the maximum benefit flowing back to the Alaskan people, the wording is quite strong on that.”
Fairbanks blogger Dermot Cole said of Randolph: “Based on his long history in state politics, Randolph would like nothing better than to see radical changes in the Alaska Constitution so that state resources are transferred to private companies, all in the interests of fighting socialism.”
“I always thought the state Constitution is awful,” Cole quoted Randolph as saying in a 2014 interview with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “We have the only socialist economic system that is constitutionally mandated. All subsurface wealth is mandated to be owned by the state, so we can't have a private economy.”
Hartman said the Alaska constitution represents an effort to fix the problems that the previous 48 states encountered.