New drive for a new constitution
Published January 29. 2006 6:01AM Gadsden Times

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Passionate arguments offered for and against it

The drive has begun anew for lawmakers to give Alabamians a chance to vote on whether they are ready to chuck the state's massive state constitution, a document crafted in 1901 to lock power in the state capital.

Considering a new constitution raises strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Some opponents of a rewrite claim those who seek change want to increase taxes, expand legal gambling and restrict property rights. Some have argued re-writers want to take God out of the state constitution.

Those who favor a new constitution point to the old document's racist language and the stranglehold it puts on the state's counties in terms of what functions county governments can handle without help from lawmakers in Montgomery.

The discussion came at a public hearing to consider a bill for a statewide vote on whether to have a constitutional convention to rewrite the 1901 version, a document that has been amended more than 700 times over the last century.

Opponents of a new constitution say length and age are no reason to discount the existing document. Some mention the U.S. Constitution, which is older than the state constitution as an example of a functional foundation for government.

But we would assert the framers of the U.S. Constitution had more noble motivations than some of those that spurred the writers of the 1901 state document.

While the founding fathers were concerned with separating powers and given representation to all states, the consensus among historians is that the 1901 state constitution was designed to center power in Montgomery, and to prevent blacks and poor whites from gaining any influence there.

Some argue the racist language is something rendered invalid by subsequent court rulings, as if it shouldn't matter that the state's constitution establishes a poll tax and separate schools, as long as we don't have them now.

That language problem, and a number of other problems with the current constitution could be remedied with a re-write. Those worried about what a new constitution might change should work to be involved in the re-writing process.

State government does not often work in a way that inspires confidence among the people, but surely those involved in making state laws can have enough confidence in the people of the state to tell them, through a vote, if they want a new constitution.

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