Persistence can win
Alabama needs a new state constitution, and as soon as possible
The Huntsville Times
Sunday, March 11, 2007

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To get things done in Alabama in the realm of public policy, you have to be persistent - very persistent. And someday it can pay off.

The tens of thousands of Alabamians who see the crying need for a new constitution are trying again. Their determination is a tribute to the depth of their convictions and to the fact that their cause is right.

When the Legislature convened in regular session last week, 23 legislators (four Republicans, 19 Democrats) signed on to sponsor companion bills that would allow Alabamians to decide whether to call for a constitutional convention.

Of course, 23 is far from enough. The Senate has 35 members, the House 105. But 23 is a start, and it may not even represent every member who would vote for the measure should it come to the floor of both houses.

Why the need for a new constitution? The 1901 constitution now in effect has grown almost unworkable to meet the needs of modern life. It's riddled with the racist language of the past, and scholars say its ratification was almost certainly fraudulent.

In addition, the document invests so much power with the entrenched political class in Montgomery that citizens' needs for effective government often go unmet. The document has been amended about 800 times, and there's no end in sight.

It's not too much to say that no living person knows by memory everything included in what some have described as the free world's longest basic law. The time is long past for this shameful and failed legacy to be replaced.

The process isn't easy, and it shouldn't be. The possibility of mischief is always present, which is why so many steps and safeguards are built into the way a constitution would be adopted.

What the 23 legislative sponsors want is a referendum on the February 2008 ballot as to whether a constitutional convention would be called. If the voters say yes, they would then have to elect delegates to participate. Once the delegates agreed on a new constitution - and there really is no guarantee such agreement would occur - the proposed document would then go back to the voters for ratification.

In other words, the process is so cautious that there's a little chance something undesirable could be slipped in to protect special interests or infringe on the basic rights of the people.

And yet strong opposition remains. It rests with special and monied interests who now reap the benefits, financial and otherwise, of a distorted and often corrupt system. When only a few have power, power sharing is repulsive to them.

Call your legislators

The first step is to persuade legislators to vote for House Bill 98 and Senate Bill 99. If that succeeds, the rest of the way would be forged by the people themselves.

Make no mistake: The task is difficult. But persistence has paid off before. It paid off with the eventual passage of an automobile seat-belt law, which has since been strengthened twice and to which further requirements are now proposed.

It also paid off in 2006 when the longtime campaign to force school districts to increase the minimum property taxes for local schools was approved by state voters.

At one time, such measures could not pass. Now they have. Constitutional reform can succeed as well so long as voters don't listen to demagogues and fear-mongers and their unfounded warnings.

To learn more, visit the Web site of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform: www.constitutionalreform.org.

It's your government. It's time to get it under control.

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

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