'Corporate personhood' on agenda
The Haines contingent of “We the People” is pushing the Haines Borough Assembly to pass an ordinance rejecting corporate personhood and restricting the definition of “person” in borough code to human beings.
Under Haines Borough code, “person” is defined as “a corporation, partnership, joint venture, the borough and any other public agency, as well as an individual or individuals.”
A half-dozen members of “We the People” made their case to the Government Affairs and Services Committee Tuesday. Gershon Cohen, Mike Denker, Dana Hallett and Deb Vogt addressed committee chair Steve Vick, the only committee member present.
“It doesn’t seem to me we should be extending the civil rights of corporations and it seems to me that it would be lovely if we went on record saying not here, not in Haines... I know there are issues about how the Supreme Court says you can, so how can we say you can’t, but you have to start somewhere,” Vogt said.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the Citizens United case holding that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individual people in terms of political spending. The decision brought the issue of corporate personhood, which gives corporations the same Constitutional rights as people, to the fore.
“We need to take a stand as a community because community by community is how we are going to change this. The courts have made decisions, but the courts change their minds based on what the people of the country believe and think,” Cohen said.
Committee chair Vick will make a report relaying the group’s request to the assembly Tuesday. The assembly will decide whether it wants to pursue an ordinance or other kind of action, such as a resolution or borough charter change.
Mayor Stephanie Scott, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting, said in an interview Monday she would recommend “We the People” prepare an advisory question to be put on the October ballot. The assembly can authorize an advisory question via resolution.
“That will give the assembly an indicator of whether it needs to be pursued in a more formal fashion,” Scott said.
If the assembly decides it wants to entertain the ordinance proposed by the group, it would have to be sent to borough attorney Brooks Chandler, Scott said. “I’m not going to ask him for that work prior to the assembly making a move, because I do think that would be an irresponsible expenditure of borough resources.”
Both Scott and Vick asked at the meeting what the concrete effects of passing such an ordinance would have. “My concern is what is the impact of doing this? And nobody’s been able to quite tell me,” Scott said.
“I’m not going to prevent people from putting something on the agenda that I may or may not agree with. That would be wrong,” she added.
Cohen is also pursuing a citizens’ initiative, which forces a public vote on an issue via a petition signed by a minimum number of registered voters.