Group rallies support for constitutional reform
Times Daily, March 4, 2004
By Michelle Rupe Eubanks, staff writer

FLORENCE – The hefty weight of Alabama's constitution was lifted several times Wednesday to illustrate its bulk.

Dr. Thomas Corts lifted the weighty document throughout his speech Wednesday afternoon at a rally for constitutional reform.

"I hear people say, 'This is the South. It's how we do things here,' " he said to the group gathered at the Florence Conference Center. "But look at Mississippi's constitution . . . and Georgia's."

Both states have smaller volumes, sized to fit inside a pocket.

Corts is on a mission to see the state reform its 103-year-old constitution, a document he sees as "disabling" to Alabama's progress in all areas.

"It's a laughable document, if you care to laugh at it," he said. "But it's too serious to be laughed at. We have to think about what really matters."

Proponents of constitutional reform argue that the document prevents any real change from happening in the state.

Jackie Hendrix, in the audience but not a member of the Shoals Chapter of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, the organization that sponsored the event, likened the problem to a chief executive officer given little control of the company he runs.

"You hire this guy to run the business, but you tell him he can only control 8 percent of the checkbook," he said. "You're going to take care of the other 92 percent, but he still has to solve all of the problems with his 8 percent. It's impossible."

In fact, almost 90 percent of the state's budget is earmarked for some purpose – education or state pensions – and that leaves 10 percent for use by the governor at his discretion.

Detractors of the idea of a constitutional reform say changing it will hinder the Legislature and may even allow for gambling.

Gary Palmer, of the Alabama Policy Institute in Birmingham, is in favor of reform, but that reform cannot come from a constitutional convention.

"I think we need reform; we've already started the process," he said. "And I think a great deal of what they've recommended to the Legislature, the Legislature has not acted on. But we need to avoid (reforming the constitution) through convention. If we do, it would be dominated by Paul Hubbard and his union. He runs the Legislature."

Palmer suggests Florida as a model for constitutional reform based on the objectivity the commission charged with the task has shown.

"(Reform) needs to be done in the most objective manner as possible with the least interference by the Legislature as possible," he said.

Wearing a red, white and blue button emblazoned with the slogan, "Alabama needs a new constitution," ACCR Vice President Bill Dixon said he is eager to see any kind of change take place in the constitution.

"I taught political science and the constitution, and (the constitution) is supposed to be a basic law," he said. "It's not supposed to be 748 amendments."

Sandra Sockwell heard Corts' message loud and clear. "It sounds like the constitution is broken, and it needs to be fixed," she said. "I'm not in ACCR, but I support the idea of reform."

As an argument for reform, Corts said, "The mistakes of our forefathers become our mistakes."

Palmer echoed the sentiments, charging state residents with using the power of the vote to begin the process of change necessary to help the state progress.

"Alabama is not on board with any initiative until we get on board with legislative accountability," he said. "I wish people who were so eager to vote down Amendment One were as eager to vote out legislators who are corrupt or incompetent."

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