The people of Alabama want to vote on whether a citizens convention should draft a new constitution, but will the Legislature let them?
The Birmingham News
Thursday, April 03, 2008

If there's a popular groundswell rising, many Alabama lawmakers will knock each other out of the way to be the first to catch the wave.

So here are some poll results that ought to make lawmakers break out the surfboards: Almost two-thirds of Alabamians surveyed say they want their lawmakers to vote for a bill that would let voters decide whether they want a constitutional convention to draft a new state constitution.

The poll of 599 likely voters in March, done by the widely respected Capital Survey Research Center (the polling arm for the Alabama Education Association), showed 63.9 percent of those surveyed wanted lawmakers to let voters decide the issue. Just 24.4 percent favored the Legislature killing the proposal, while 11.7 percent either didn't know or didn't reply. The overwhelming support for letting people decide held no matter the demographic: the region of the state, age, gender, race, political party, income level, rural vs. urban, or how often someone attends church.

Alabama voters saying they want to be able to decide the constitutional convention issue isn't new. The new numbers are similar to or even better than polls from recent years that have shown voters want to have their say.

So far, though, the Legislature has had its say, as in: No way. It has drowned bills that would allow voters to decide on a constitutional convention.

This year, supporters are optimistic. Bills that would let voters approve or reject a convention have made it through committees in the House and the Senate. Now comes the hard part - getting the rules committees in both chambers to schedule the bills for votes. This is especially true in the Senate, which did more bickering than legislating in the first half of the session.

Poll results shouldn't ever replace thoughtful decision-making on the issues, or even drive the debate, but they at least let lawmakers know where the public stands. And on a constitutional convention, the public stands very much in favor.

That's not the best reason to pass a bill letting the people vote. The best reason by far is because Alabama is in desperate need of a new constitution. The 1901 Constitution was a relic of bad governance from the time it was approved in a fraudulent referendum. The state's fundamental charter straitjackets efficient government by preventing local communities from running their own affairs; much of the state's immoral, unfair tax system is embedded in the constitution, perpetuating unfair tax burdens on the poor; the constitution retains racist language, such as a provision for separate schools for "white and colored children."

It shouldn't take poll numbers to persuade the Legislature to do what's right. But if lawmakers want to climb aboard a constitutional convention groundswell, there's nothing wrong with that.

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