A fraudulent constitution
From the Birmingham News
Sunday, May 27, 2007

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THE ISSUE: This past week 106 years ago, the 1901 Constitution's framers began drafting the document that would constrain Alabama's people and its governments.

This past week 106 years ago, powerful, affluent white men began plotting Alabama's future.

Beginning May 21, they met in Montgomery to write a new state constitution. Their post-Reconstruction aims were very clear: to preserve white supremacy through restrictions that rid the state's voting rolls of blacks and poor whites; to constrict and concentrate government power in Montgomery, where special interests could more easily control the Legislature; and to keep property taxes low for the farm, timber, coal and ore industries that ran the state.

The delegates accomplished their mission. So well, in fact, that within a few years, some of them recognized the folly of their 1901 Constitution. Delegate Emmet O'Neal, as governor in 1915, said: "No real or permanent progress is possible in Alabama, until the present fundamental law is thoroughly revised and adapted to meet present conditions."

Our "present fundamental law" is now 106 years old, and the "real or permanent progress" comes in spite of, not because of, the constitution.

It is true with state government, where entrenched special interests concentrate their money and lobbying on influencing a handful of statewide offices and the Legislature.

But it is especially true with local governments, particularly counties, that have little power to run their own affairs. Instead, they must ask the Legislature, and sometimes voters statewide, for permission to do things they ought to be able to do themselves, from regulating noise, to picking up dead animals, to controlling weeds.

There is no method to this madness that has led to the most amended constitution on Earth, except for the lawmakers who lord it over local governments. It is not a sensible or efficient way to govern. How can it be when needed local legislation can languish for years before the Legislature deigns to approve it?

But this has been the Alabama way for 106 years. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. Most lawmakers and the special interests that control them like things as they are. Even without this year's Senate meltdown in the current legislative session, there would be no move toward a new constitution.

Earlier this session, bills that would allow voters to decide whether they want a citizens convention to write a new constitution were reported out of committee in the House and Senate. But supporters in the House, which offered a better chance at passage because senators were too busy fighting each other to govern, couldn't muster enough votes to approve the bill.

Lawmakers have made clear they don't trust Alabama voters, and the feeling is mutual. Alabamians don't trust their government. Nor should they.

It is a government built on a document that, in the constitution's ultimate irony, passed only because of falsified black voter returns - the very voter fraud convention delegates said they wanted to end as a way of improving the state's morality. "We of the Black Belt are in earnest when we say we want this fraud in elections stopped," Thomas Hill Watts of Montgomery said.

That November, voters ratified the constitution 108,613 to 81,734. The margin of victory was provided in 12 Black Belt counties where, we are to believe, blacks voted overwhelmingly to take away their voting rights. In most of those counties, more votes were cast for ratification than there were legal voters.

The 1901 Constitution is a shameful fraud perpetrated on the people of Alabama. So is the 2007 Legislature's purposeful refusal to do anything about it.

2007 The Birmingham News

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