OUR VIEW: The state House of Representatives doesn't trust Alabama voters enough to decide whether they want a new state constitution
The Birmingham News
Editorial Board

The Alabama House on Tuesday tabled a bill that would let voters decide whether to allow a citizens convention to write a new state constitution. Supporters of a new Alabama constitution are a well-mannered bunch. They are prone to polite petitions, reading the endless document in public, holding mock conventions to draft a better fundamental charter, and such.

Otherwise, they'd take to the House of Representatives gallery today, brandishing signs with not-so-clever messages like "Impeach Rep. Adolf Hitler," and shouting down lawmakers for not allowing the people of Alabama to vote on the issue. Sort of like Tuesday's sorry spectacle on the State House steps in Montgomery when electronic-bingo backers drowned out Gov. Bob Riley at a rally opposing bingo.

At the same time bingo backers were demanding the right to vote on that issue, House members were making sure no one will be able to vote on a citizens convention to rewrite the state's grievously flawed constitution. Tuesday, the House voted 58-32 to table a resolution sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, that would allow voters this November to decide whether to allow a constitutional convention to write a new Alabama constitution.

Let the people vote? Fat chance.

"It leaves me speechless when you're inside (the State House) watching sausage being made, and with the windows open you're hearing shouting matches between the executive branch and the people. Montgomery is clearly broken," said Lenora Pate, who chairs the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a group trying to grow grass-roots support for a citizens convention.

"Clearly broken" means the powers that be like things the way they are, and they fear Alabamians may decide to change them. The way things are: The 1901 constitution coddles special interests, mainly through massive tax breaks embedded in the document; it concentrates power in Montgomery, where those special interests call the shots in the Legislature; the concentrated power means local governments have little ability to govern themselves, forcing them to go begging to the Legislature. Often, it takes years for lawmakers to approve something a county commission or a city council could do at next week's meeting.

Plus, the evil intent of the drafters -- to steal the voting rights of blacks and poor whites, and to steal votes in the referendum to ensure approval of the 1901 constitution -- makes it a fraudulent, embarrassing document.

Pate said Tuesday's vote against allowing Alabamians to decide on a citizens convention was a sign many lawmakers feel more accountable to the interests that fund their campaigns than they do to the people who elect them. And there is no doubt money is flowing fast into legislative campaign coffers from special interests that revel in the status quo.

Let the people vote? Fat chance.

This vote wasn't about whether representatives are for or against a new constitution or a citizens' convention. It was about whether they think voters can decide that issue. Those who voted to table Newton's resolution Tuesday don't trust Alabama voters enough to make the right decision.

Let the people vote? Fat chance.

Yet, the lawmakers who voted to keep Alabama voters from deciding on a convention trust those same voters in their districts to re-elect them.

Let the people vote? If it means replacing some lawmakers who play marionette to their special-interest puppeteers, we sure hope so, in June and November.

CONSTITUTION CALAMITY: Here's a clip-and-save list of House members who represent Jefferson and Shelby counties, and how they voted Tuesday on a resolution that would allow voters in November to decide whether they want a convention of citizens to write a new state constitution.

In the Legislature's "Alice in Wonderland" world, a "yes" vote was against allowing voters to decide on a convention, while a "no" vote was in favor of letting the people vote. In other words, "yes" is bad and "no" is good.

Voting yes: Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills; Owen Drake, R-Leeds; Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton; Lawrence McAdory, D-Bessemer; Jim McClendon, R-Springville; Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Pelham; Pat Moore, R-Pleasant Grove; Arthur Payne, R-Trussville; Elwyn Thomas, R-Oneonta; Allen Treadaway, R-Morris; Cam Ward, R-Alabaster; Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills.

Voting no: Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham; Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood; Mike Hill, R-Columbiana; Earl Hilliard Jr., D-Birmingham; Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham; Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham; Rod Scott, D-Fairfield; Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham.
Voting pass (not voting or not present): Mary Moore, D-Birmingham; John Rogers, D-Birmingham.

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