Have Alaska's Republicans Gone Mad?

08/27/2010 06:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yeah, sure, it's not over yet. They'll be counting absentee ballots for weeks. But if Miller wins and Murkowski doesn't go third-party rogue, we Alaskans will get handed six years of junior status in an institution juiced almost entirely by rank. After all, longevity is what put the "Uncle" in front of "Ted" and helped build our state. The Democratic candidate, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, would at least be in the controlling party if he wins. But how much can a newly minted Republican senator accomplish with Democrats in the majority? Can you say "Write press releases"?

That's not the worst of it. Let's leave aside how Miller distorted Murkowski's record and statements during the campaign. Never mind his nimno right-wing boilerplate dismissing of the overwhelming evidence for human-triggered climate change and factual misstatements like "the trend in more recent years has been towards cooler temperatures." (It's not.)

Miller has publicaly embraced the same sort of loony constitutional fundamentalism that leads people to stockpile ammo and build bunkers in the black spruce. His campaign hammers on the need to scale back the federal government to "the constitutional powers anticipated by our Founders" without explaining how that might work.

So let's unpack this idea. What if we rolled back 223 years of pesky amendments and activist court opinions and simply rebooted the country with U.S. OS I?

First, Miller would need to quit wasting money on ads and start taking legislators to dinner. Our wig-topped Founders were spooked by the sweaty chaos and rude disorder of popular elections. In those days, U.S. senators were appointed by state legislatures in much the same spirit that countries now appoint ambassadors to the United Nations. Direct election of senators didn't begin until after states ratified the 17th Amendment in 1913.

Second, Miller's return to constitutional bedrock would devastate the home state economy. Under Article 1, Section 2 of the original document, Alaska's take of the non-defense federal pie would be cut by more than 99 percent -- from about $5.7 billion to about $4.8 million. It seems the unaltered constitution stipulated that all federal "direct Taxes" had to be distributed by Congress to states in proportion to their official census population.

How does this Founding Father funding formula pencil out? Alaska's official census population is just shy of 700,000 -- which is about 0.23 percent of the U.S. total of 307 million. To get Alaska's proportionate share of the federal pie, just multiply 0.0023 times the $2.1 trillion that the federal government collected in taxes recently. That's like trading 125,000 jobs -- about one-third of our state workforce -- for one freeway interchange decorated with aluminum yard art.

What other changes might we see from Miller's back-to-basics approach? Slavery wouldn't be prohibited, with any new slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of congressional apportionment. Most Native Americans wouldn't be citizens or be allowed to vote. Women wouldn't be voting either. These changes all meant tweaking the constitution in ways not intended by the framers.

Aside from the little constitutional snafus, Miller might need to clarify a few of his other positions too. In particular, he takes the common conservative "pro-life" stance against the right of women to choose to end a pregnancy. Not a surprise. But this stand doesn't jibe well with his particular notion of limiting the federal government only to powers "anticipated by our Founders."

Because abortion was not illegal in 18th century America. Nor was it limited in any way by the Constitution. Under the English common law observed in the fledgling United States, women had the right to end a pregnancy before fetal movement, or the "quickening." Sometimes even later. You could argue the Founding Fathers did not "anticipate" that any government, state or federal, would eventually try to intervene between a woman and her body. (Just don't let them vote.)

"At the time of the adoption of our Constitution, and throughout the major portion of the 19th century, abortion was viewed with less disfavor than under most American statutes currently in effect," wrote Associate Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. "Phrasing it another way, a woman enjoyed a substantially broader right to terminate a pregnancy than she does in most States today. At least with respect to the early stage of pregnancy, and very possibly without such a limitation, the opportunity ... to make this choice was present in this country well into the 19th century."

Perhaps the most peculiar shift we'd see under the Miller constitutional reboot is in the presidential race. Following Miller's course means we'd no longer enjoy party tickets with candidate and running mate side-by-side. Back in the starchy 1790s, the presidential electors each cast two votes for president, and the vice president was the guy who came in second. This is how Federalist John Adams became president and Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson became vice president in 1797. It sounds weird, sure, and probably un-American. But that's what the Founding Fathers wanted.

Come to think of it, this change might have torpedoed Sarah Palin's career as a political entertainer before it launched. Without party tickets, Sen. John McCain would have run alone and almost certainly be the vice president now, or maybe, without Palin as ballast, the 44th president. With no Palisteria and Tea Party attack ads driving campaigns where candidates blurt out whatever nonsense hooks voters regardless of its truth or sense, Lisa would have steamrolled to her party's slot. Alaskans might be facing a civil and rational Senate race this fall instead of a circus.

Maybe Miller's on to something after all...

Doug O'Harra is a writer who lives in Anchorage. Read more of