The Election's No. 1 issue
In our opinion
Anniston Star
10-19-06

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It has been more than a decade since the late Bailey Thomson wrote a searing series of articles that called attention to the fact that so many of Alabama's problems stem from the much-amended 1901 Constitution that hamstrung local government, limited the state's ability to fund services and centralized power in Montgomery, where special interests once known as the Big Mules could sidetrack any change they did not want made.

Over the years, the original Big Mules - agriculture, banking and industry - were joined by other Mules - education, business and timber, to name a few - to form a coalition united in their opposition to constitutional reform and little else. So while they squabbled over who got the Legislature to do what it wanted done and which of them got the biggest piece of a pitifully small pie, the 1901 Constitution, though amended, remained fundamentally unchanged.

The men who drew up the original document wanted (1) state government weak and ineffective; (2) wanted taxes (especially on themselves) to be low; (3)wanted local government to have to go to Montgomery with its hat in its hand whenever it wanted to do anything; and (4) wanted to keep the white man supreme. To a remarkable degree, what they got in 1901 their political descendants still have today.

So why, if this constitution has been such a disaster for the state, haven't we done anything about it?

Because it has not been a disaster for everyone. Moreover, in one of the most successful political ploys in the history of a state where voters have been frequently fooled into voting against their own best interests, those Big Mules who did well under the constitution have convinced voters that any change would only make things worse.

Voters, innately conservative and fearful of losing what little they have, believe them.

Despite the influence that supporters of the status quo have in Montgomery, where constitutional reform must end up if it is ever to succeed, supporters of change continue to work to at least give the people of Alabama a reasonable chance to have a new constitution, if they want it. But so far reformers have not even been able to get that simple question - do you want a new constitution? - put on the ballot.

Politically speaking, the problem is this. Supporters of the current constitution have persuaded voters that changing the constitution will allow "special interests" to have more power in Montgomery, though it is difficult to believe that "special interests" could be more powerful than they already are.

Meanwhile, supporters of a new constitution have failed to persuade voters that the old constitution and those who support it are the problem, that the only way to loosen the hold that "special interests" and their lobbyists have on state government is to write a new constitution that cuts them out.

Which, of course, is just what the "special interests" fear.

So, ask yourself as the election approaches, why are no candidates talking about constitutional reform?
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