Lawmakers: Heed call for constitutional reform convention
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04-15-2007

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Dueling efforts at constitutional reform in Alabama ought to tell voters and lawmakers something. The momentum is building once again for change – in any form.

State Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, is following the years-long lead of the late Jack Venable, a state representative who fought until his death for changing the constitution one article at a time. It couldn’t be done then, and its prospects of success in the future are none too encouraging.

Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, is renewing his fight to change the constitution in its entirety through a constitutional convention of citizens.

If we get a vote, we cast ours for the latter. It represents what democracy is supposed to be about – giving the people a chance to have a say in their own government.

In reality, the people have already spoken. In polls, in resolutions, in petitions, they say they want a new constitution. They want a constitution that puts the power back in their hands, not in those of special interests and a select group of lawmakers in Montgomery.

Yet Newton’s measure faces another uphill battle even though it simply lets the people of this state officially decide whether they want to call a constitutional convention to rewrite the state’s 106-year-old document.

Alabama’s constitution long ago outgrew its usefulness as the state’s governing constitution. It has been amended almost 800 times, making it the longest constitution in the nation and providing almost 800 reasons why it isn’t working for the people of this state.

Newton’s bill calls for a statewide vote on Feb. 5, 2008, which would allow voters to decide once and for all if they want to call a convention. If successful, delegates would be elected June 3 in non-partisan races in each of Alabama’s 105 House districts.

Unlike the special interests that reign in other elections, each candidate could not accept any more than $100 from a single source.

The convention would convene Oct. 6, 2008, and complete its work by July 1, 2009. Then voters would decide in the 2010 general election to accept or reject the revised or new constitution.

Every step of the way, voters in this state — everyday people facing everyday issues — would have a strong voice in how their future is shaped. That concept is in sharp contrast to today’s practice of asking Montgomery permission for a variety of issues that should be purely local.

Earmarking 90 percent of every dollar while the rest of the country earmarks an average of 20 percent hinders the state’s budgeting process. Outdated language sends a message to the outside that the state is backward in its thinking and hurts economic development.

And asking the state’s permission to let the people back home decide on issues in their own backyard is nothing less than concentrating the power in the hands of a few.

But that’s exactly what the framers of the 1901 constitution intended, and lawmakers are simply continuing the charade of a representative government by keeping this bill from passage.

As the call for a convention makes its way through the House and Senate, it is hoped that the people of this state get involved and push their lawmakers for a voice in the decisions that affect them.

If not, it will be business as usual in Montgomery, and that business rarely lets them have a real voice in their own future.

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