Politicians don't trust people to vote wisely
Mobile Register
Thursday, February 16, 2006

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OVER THE years, Alabama politicians have offered an assortment of excuses for why they aren't interested in rewriting the state constitution.

None of the excuses -- which range from "We can fix it via the amendment process" to "There's nothing wrong with centralizing power in Montgomery" -- holds water. But the weakest has got to be (and we're paraphrasing here), "Let the people decide? Are you crazy?"

Sadly, the "Are you crazy?" mentality prevailed this week in the Alabama House, where on Wednesday a committee rejected a bill calling for a constitutional convention.

And shamefully, three Mobile-area legislators were among those who cast "no" votes: Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, and Rep. Joseph Mitchell, D-Mobile.

Citing such bugaboos as gambling and tax increases, they and other opponents will insist that they're protecting ordinary Alabamians from the terrible things that could happen if the constitution were rewritten.

But the truth is, they obviously don't trust Alabamians to decide for themselves. Otherwise, they'd say "yes" to constitutional reform instead of regularly finding ways to thwart it.

The measure that went down Wednesday on a tie vote was very much a people's bill, incorporating referendums at several stages of the process. First, it would have required voters to say "yes" to a constitutional amendment calling for a constitutional convention.

After that, voters would elect delegates to the convention; and ultimately, the people would vote on the delegates' proposed new constitution.

It's insulting that Alabama legislators don't trust their constituents to exercise good judgment. But it's apparent that they don't.

Here's the bottom line: With more than 700 amendments, the Alabama Constitution of 1901 is outdated, unwieldy, unworkable and unresponsive.

Reform could bring fairness to the state's tax system while properly funding schools and state government. It also could disperse the power of government from its concentration in Montgomery, and give local control to cities and counties across the state.

A survey last year by the Capital Survey Research Center showed that 68 percent of respondents said they would vote to call a constitutional convention. Yet opponents of reform continue to ignore the public's will.

Wednesday's vote doesn't mean the reform issue is dead; a related bill is working its way through the state Senate.

Maybe senators will see the wisdom in Rep. Demetrius Newton's observation Wednesday. The Birmingham Democrat said: "I can find nothing wrong with giving the people who elected me the chance to vote on the constitution of this great state."

Really, now. Who could argue with such sound logic?

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