Courting a new state constitution
The Birmingham News
Thursday, February 22, 2007

Alabama Legislative Session Update and where do we go from here?
What the Polls Say

THE ISSUE: The Circuit Judges Association hops aboard the bandwagon for a new fundamental charter for Alabama. There's still lots of room left, especially for legislators' constituents.

The bandwagon for constitution reform in Alabama can't get too crowded. So there is plenty of room for the Alabama Circuit Judges Association, which recently jumped on board by calling on the governor and Legislature to adopt legislation calling for a citizens convention to rewrite the Alabama Constitution.

"In approving this resolution, the Alabama Circuit Judges have recognized the need to restate the state's constitution, or fundamental law, in order to meet the needs of our state in the 21st century," said Scott Vowell, presiding judge of Jefferson County.

The 1901 Constitution fails in so many ways to meet the state's needs for this century, from its failure to allow self-government for local governments, to its racist language from a bygone era, to its restraints on economic development.

The Circuit Judges Association brings to 31 the number of groups that are working to bring a constitutional convention to Alabama, according to Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. Those groups include the Baldwin County, Shelby County and Birmingham bar associations, as well as the Alabama State Bar Board of Commissioners.

That is all well and good. Groups that wield any influence at all can help persuade reluctant lawmakers to vote for a bill that would allow Alabama citizens to decide whether they want a citizens convention to write a new document.

But the most important group of all - constituents - hasn't yet signed on in significant numbers.

Last year, ACCR collected petitions signed by more than 65,000 citizens and delivered them to the Legislature. The petitions are an important symbol of a growing grass-roots reform movement, although lawmakers ignored them. Neither the signatures nor the endorsements of influential groups are nearly as important as the views of Joe and Jane Citizen.

Nothing grabs a lawmaker's attention like a constituent stopping him in the local diner or at the ballpark, or taking the time to call him on the phone or drop him a letter or e-mail, or stopping by his office to voice support or opposition to something. A single constituent can get a lawmaker's attention, while a half-dozen causes him concern. Double-digit numbers herald a movement that a lawmaker ignores at his own peril.

Again, endorsements from groups such as the Alabama Circuit Judges Association are important for the constitution reform effort. But a bandwagon filled with Ann from Abbeville and Zeke from Zip City, and everyone in between, will get us there much faster.

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