The Montgomery Advertiser
In spite of the vociferous partisanship on display during the 2011 session of the Alabama Legislature, there is one issue on which Democrats and Republicans universally and timelessly agree. Both parties -- and apparently most of their members in the House and Senate -- refuse to accord constitutional reform the priority that it deserves.
For the past several weeks, Republican legislators have anointed themselves as "promise keepers" of the decade, but they, like the Democrats who preceded them for a century, failed -- or refused -- to pass the most consequential legislation on Alabama's agenda. After another session in the capital city, albeit replete with new laws, our state still holds the shockingly embarrassing record for the longest, most cumbersome constitution in the world, and arguably the most anti-democratic constitution in the nation.
Eleven years after the 20th century ended, our state government, and therefore our lives, are still governed by a document conceived in the racism, oppression and materialism that characterized the year the 20th century began. For 110 years after the adoption of the state's constitution, Democrats who controlled the legislature either resisted writing a new constitution for the state because they notoriously embraced the policies set forth in the document or because they were determined to maintain their access (though waning in recent decades) to traditional big money contributors and the outsized political power guaranteed by opposing home rule for local jurisdictions.
Although Alabama's lawmakers have asserted legislative priorities in favor of blue-collar and no-collar workers and the millions of "average Joes" who live in Alabama, they have avoided constitutional reform like the plague. At every one of the several opportunities to eliminate or substantially alter the antiquated document, House and Senate Democrats have remained mute.
During the Democrat reign, Republicans trumpeted their fervor for maintaining and even reducing tax rates and limiting abortions, while failing to muster even a murmur of support for constitutional reform. Throughout their accusations that the Democrats were running roughshod over the will of the electorate on issue after issue, the then-minority party declined to push for a people's referendum on a constitutional convention.
Now the Republicans are in charge. While they established a commission to consider the process of reform, they took no definitive steps to lift the weight of the constitution from the backs of Alabamians.
Opposition to writing a new, modern constitution almost suggests a legislative policy, if not individual intentions, to preserve the discriminatory and over-reaching sentiment in the current constitution, just in case the tide of history reverses itself, reviving the acceptability and pertinence of the immoral philosophies so confidently expressed on its pages.
Perhaps legislators and the rural property owners who benefit from of our constitutionally medieval tax structure are really social investors who are willing to ride the century-old wave of advancing egalitarianism. In the hope that things will return to "normal" one day, they readily risk losing it all until the social market rights itself and Billy Frank Jones (distant cousin to "Dow") pronounces a bull market for racism and obsolescence.
Whatever their motivation, one constant is the legislative intolerance for local democracy. If the Alabama Legislature did nothing else in 2012, it could quite easily pass a law that gave each local jurisdiction power over its own affairs, thus giving city and county governments here in Montgomery the right to decide for themselves such mundane issues as whether and how to levy taxes for schools, select a superintendent, restructure the municipal court, close underutilized fire stations, or post traffic cameras. The only reason why such legislation is nearly doomed is that every member of the legislature -- Democrats and Republicans aline -- is obsessive about retaining the raw power to control local jurisdictions and hold them politically hostage to individual agendas and whims.
Notwithstanding the Democrat-Republican track record on constitutional reform, there is a voice of reason that can change their attitudes and their actions.
Vanzetta Penn McPherson is a retired U.S. magistrate judge for the Middle District of Alabama. She may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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