The Alabama Constitution of 1901: Lawmakers have a chance to put rewrite of constitution in the hands of the people
By Lenora Pate
Special to The Star
01-22-2006

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"Let the People Vote" Rally.
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It's time! Indeed, it's past time to let the people vote for a constitutional convention to rewrite Alabama's archaic, unfair, unjust and immoral 1901 Constitution. This document enshrines an inefficient, unwieldy and costly system of governance, encourages racial division, perpetuates economic injustices, shackles education advancement, handicaps local governments and reflects a profound mistrust of the citizens of Alabama.

The state Legislature will hear this message from concerned citizens and a coalition of organizations gathering Wednesday at 11:15 a.m. on the state Capitol steps along Dexter Avenue in Montgomery.

At the Let the People Vote Rally, sponsored by Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR), constitutional convention proponents will present lawmakers with more than 60,000 petition signatures, all urging the Legislature to begin the process of rewriting Alabama's 1901 Constitution.

As proposed statehouse legislation declares, a new Constitution "should provide a fundamental law by the people, for the people and of the people of the great State of Alabama, with an enduring legacy of fundamental rights of liberty and justice for all, firmly developed by the people of the State of Alabama, invoking the favor and the guidance of Almighty God."

The first call for reforming the 1901 Constitution began early in the previous century, not long after it was ratified. A true people's movement, however, began in earnest with the creation in 2000 of ACCR, a nonprofit, bipartisan, grassroots organization.

Last year, members of the Huntsville ACCR chapter decided it was time to stop talking and take action. Hence, the petition drive began and quickly spread through volunteer efforts at local voting polls, public events, churches and other organizations. Wednesday's rally is the culmination of the people's vision to let the people vote.

House Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Ted Little, D- Auburn, answered the people's call by sponsoring the bills. If passed, the proposed legislation will place the convention question before Alabama voters this November.

If that ballot initiative passes, then citizens will vote in April 2007 in nonpartisan elections for convention delegates - one male and one female - from each Alabama House district. A constitutional convention would convene in July 2007 and continue through April 2008.

In November 2008, Alabamians would then have a final opportunity to accept or reject the proposed Constitution. The 1901 Constitution would remain in effect until a new one is approved. If ratified, a new Constitution would become effective in January 2009.

Hence, Alabamians could vote three times before a new Constitution becomes effective. What on earth could be controversial in our great democracy about letting the people vote?

Alabama has had six Constitutions. Thus, there's nothing unique about a people's constitutional convention, and certainly nothing to fear about letting the people vote. Alabamians have done it before. They are wise enough to do it again. Just as citizens are asked to trust legislators when voting for them, the citizens are asking the legislators to trust them to vote.

Demagoguery and lies, familiar Alabama political fear tactics by status-quo special interests, will no longer hoodwink the electorate.

The proposed legislation, developed by the people and the sponsors together, is rooted in truth and trust with safeguards against special-interest control, including:

  • Prohibiting lobbyists from giving anything of value to any convention delegate.

  • Prohibiting any delegate from receiving any political contribution from any one source in an amount in excess of $100 in cash or in-kind.

  • Prohibiting any post-delegate election contributions.

  • Applying all Fair Campaign Practices Act and Alabama ethics law requirements to the delegate elections and Convention process.

  • And requiring all lobbyists to register and file reports during the convention to ensure that it's the people's voices, and not special interest money, controlling the convention.

Wednesday's historic rally will begin and end with Alabama students reading the 1901 Constitution and its nearly 800 amendments while standing on the Capitol steps. The reading starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m.

Every legislator has been invited to attend, and the House and Senate leaders have been asked to welcome the people and to receive the petitions.

Courageous sponsors of the 2006 Let the People Vote legislation (HB109 and SB52), Rep. Newton and Sen. Little, are the rally's featured speakers, along with co-sponsors Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, and Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile.

So, now this drive is in the hands of the Legislature. Will Montgomery trust the people of the State of Alabama and pass legislation to let the people vote? The sponsors and cosponsors of HB109 and SB52 have gone on record as trusting the people. Will your legislator trust you?

House Constitution and Election Committee Chairman Randy Hinshaw, D-Huntsville, has also heard the call and scheduled a public hearing on HB109 on Wednesday at 8 a.m. in the Capitol auditorium.

Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee, has also responded by agreeing to schedule a public hearing on SB52 in February. Both chairmen have also been invited to address Wednesday's rally.

The drive for a new Constitution has begun in the minds and hearts of Alabamians. Wednesday's Let the People Vote Rally is the first step in creating an exceedingly great army of citizens and public servants, together as one and in unity of purpose, invoking the favor and the guidance of Almighty God, to birth a brand-new day for Alabama.

All citizens are urged to attend the rally. To sign a petition, available on ACCR's Web site, visit http://www.constitutionalreform.org/. And encourage your state legislator to attend the rally, and, ultimately, to trust Alabamians and let the people vote.

Birmingham resident Lenora Pate is co-chair of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform.

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