New hope for reform
The Huntsville Times
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

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State voters may actually be way ahead of their legislators

Last week, when the Alabama Legislature ended its 2006 regular session, the prospects for constitutional reform seemed dead - again. Lawmakers refused even to let the voters decide whether to call a constitutional convention. Anti-reform interests appeared to have the issue in a stranglehold.

But now there's new hope. Consider the results of two polls conducted earlier this month for The Birmingham News, WBRC-TV in Birmingham and WAFF-TV in Huntsville under the direction of communications professor Larry Powell at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Altogether, 800 voters were polled. Of those who considered themselves Democrats, 58 percent favored allowing state voters to decide whether they wanted a constitutional convention. In the same poll, 29 percent of Democrats said they were opposed.

Among Republicans, the results were perhaps more surprising. Some 53 percent favored letting the voters decide, while 33 percent were against the idea.

These results from voters in both parties suggest two things: One is that Alabamians are aware of the constitutional reform issue. The other is that the special-interest groups that vigorously protest any suggestion of reform apparently enjoy more support among legislators than among the people who elect the legislators.

It could be, too, that the sheer number of amendments - about 800, but it's hard to say exactly since they are constantly being added - has persuaded citizens across the political spectrum that this isn't the way government ought to be structured.

The difference between voters and lawmakers is amply illustrated in the modest proposal that died last week. It would not have called a constitutional convention. Nor would it have drafted a proposed constitution. It merely would have allowed voters to decide whether they wanted a convention.

If they said yes, they would then get to vote on the delegates attending the convention. If the convention drafted a constitution, that, too, would be sent to the voters for approval or disapproval. It's indeed difficult to think of any safeguards against abuse that such a system doesn't incorporate.

Keeping the vault closed

Still, the special interests were out in force. They simple don't want to open this rusted vault that has benefited them for so long. They don't want to create even an outside chance that such needs as home rule and tax reform might be addressed by the voters - or that something might actually be done about these needs.

One set of poll numbers, of course, doesn't necessarily mean anything will happen. It does mean that in the future those who oppose reform may be a little less arrogant in assuming that legislators will do their bidding and that thoughtful citizens will be encouraged to involve themselves in the discussion.

The problems with Alabama's constitution are many. The need for reform is manifest. But even if you disagree with such assertions, you at least ought to have your say at the ballot box. Maybe someday you really will.

(For more information on constitutional reform, visit the Web site of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional reform at www.constitutionalreform.org.)

By John Ehinger, for the editorial board. E-mail: johne@htimes.com

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