Can 1901 Constitution affect race for governor?
By Bob Blalock -- The Birmingham News
October 25, 2009, 5:45AM

Is U.S. Rep. Artur Davis crazy like a fox? Or just crazy?

The question comes to mind after reading an Associated Press story in The News on Tuesday that Davis is the only one of eight major gubernatorial candidates in both political parties who supports letting a convention of citizens write a new constitution for Alabama.

"There's a reason why Congressman Davis is alone in calling for a constitutional convention: It's a bad idea," state Treasurer Kay Ivey, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, told The AP's Phillip Rawls.

It's a bad idea, several candidates told The AP, because special interests would hijack a convention, and Alabama would wind up with a new constitution that legalizes gambling and raises taxes. Some candidates, such as Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and Republican Bradley Byrne, say they favor a new constitution but would allow the Legislature to revise it article by article. Byrne said he would appoint a task force to recommend changes to the Legislature for the rewrite, which voters would have to approve. Other candidates, such as Republicans Roy Moore and Bill Johnson, like the current document just fine.

Never mind that the 1901 Constitution was written by white supremacists who, through unjust restrictions, rid the state's voting rolls of blacks and poor whites. Or that the drafters wanted to constrict and concentrate government in Montgomery, where a coven of special-interest masters could more easily call the shots in the Legislature. Or that the constitution withholds power from local governments, which best know how to deal with local issues. Or that, in the ultimate irony, the constitution was approved only through the massive fraud of thousands of falsified black voter returns.

This newspaper's editorial page has argued for many years that Alabama desperately needs a new constitution to replace the grievously flawed 1901 model, and that a convention of citizens is the best way to do it. (Is there anything sillier than blasting a citizens' convention for fear of special-interest control while touting a constitutional fix by a Legislature dominated by those same special interests? At least the resolution that lets voters decide whether to allow a convention and outlines the process for electing citizen delegates has safeguards that limit the influence of special interests.)

Right on issue

Davis alone among the gubernatorial candidates is right on this issue. But is he right politically?

Running on a platform that includes support for a new constitution written by Alabamians will warm the hearts of do-gooders and editorial writers around the state, but will it sway large numbers of voters?

Gerald Johnson, who runs the Alabama Education Association's well-regarded Capital Survey Research Center, said constitution reform as a stand-alone issue "does not have any great political value."

"But if it's placed in the context of the distrust of government, the cynicism on the part of voters over government, politics, politicians and the political process, and the constitution has something to do with restoring a more proper order, that does resonate," Johnson said.

Ask Davis about the political value of taking on constitution reform, and it's clear he has in mind what Johnson suggests: arguing the link between a new constitution and curing what ails government.

"If constitution reform is coupled with a case for progress, with a case for education reform, with a case for economic development, with a case for ethics reform, with a case for resistance to special-interest groups, that's not only powerful, it can be a platform for an agenda that changes politics in Alabama," Davis said.

Done right, that might sway some voters. But there's another, simpler message that may work just as well. It's all about trust, said Lenora Pate, who chairs the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a group trying to grow grass-roots support for a citizens convention.

"It's just amazing, isn't it, that (candidates) want to trust the people and ask them to vote for them, but they don't want to trust us to vote on this issue," she said. "Something is inherently inconsistent with that."

Davis can argue he's the only candidate for governor who trusts voters. He would be right.

Bob Blalock is editorial page editor of The News. E-mail: bblalock@bhamnews.com.

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