Isn't it ironic?
From the Birmingham News
Editorial
Sunday, May 06, 2007

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THE ISSUE: The Alabama Farmers Federation helped kill a bill that would let voters have their say on a new constitution. Lawmakers who voted Alfa's way said they saved voters from special interests.

Tuesday, a powerful special-interest group flexed its muscles in the Legislature to help kill a bill its opponents said would let powerful special-interest groups flex their muscles in the Legislature.

The irony is likely lost on opponents of a new state constitution who ensured, for another year, there won't be one.

Here's what happened: The House of Representatives failed to act on a bill that would allow voters to decide whether they want a citizens' convention to draft a new constitution. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, pulled the bill from debate right before a procedural vote because he did not have the votes to pass it. House members who opposed Newton's bill said they feared a citizens convention would be dominated by special interests that would write a constitution to their liking.

The Alabama Farmers Federation - one of the powerful special interests that benefits most from the 1901 Constitution - in the days before the vote ran a telephone campaign urging constituents to ask their House members to oppose Newton's bill. Rep. Jack Page, D-Gadsden, said the phone campaign told people to call lawmakers and say they opposed a new constitution because they thought it would bring higher taxes. But of course.

"Not a single one of them had a grasp of what this bill did," said Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, who said he received several messages of opposition from constituents. Those who called him didn't even realize the measure would let them vote on a constitutional convention, Gipson said.

No matter. Enough lawmakers got the Alfa-inspired message, and Newton's plans to pass his bill fizzled. Newton said he wants to meet with lawmakers individually to try to switch some votes with the idea of bringing his bill back for a vote before the session ends.

But even his bill's supporters don't think that will happen. House Speaker Seth Hammett said more than 60 percent of the House members voting Tuesday would have voted against the resolution that would have allowed full debate on Newton's bill. That suggests Newton is nowhere near to getting the support he needs to pass the bill out of the House. And the Senate is an even tougher hurdle to clear.

What this means is that constitution reformers have plenty of work ahead of them, not just in the Legislature but with the people of Alabama. The Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform doesn't have the resources or the sophisticated political machinery Alfa can unleash on the Legislature. So ACCR must keep working to grow grass-roots support for replacing a racist, unwieldy, inefficient constitution.

It is only when enough lawmakers worry more about angering constitution supporters than they do about kowtowing to Alfa and the like that a bill to let the people vote will pass. In the meantime, lawmakers will continue trusting voters to re-elect them, but won't trust them to decide whether the state needs a citizens convention to write a new constitution.

That may well be the ultimate irony with this issue. But it's likely lost on those who oppose a new constitution.

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