Number 800: It's a travesty to all citizens of this state
Huntsville Times
Sunday, June 03, 2007

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I have an 800 number for you, but I don't suggest that you call it - because you can't. The 800 number is the number Alabama is rapidly approaching in its total aggregation of state constitutional amendments.

How rapid is the approach? Very rapid. On Tuesday four constitutional amendments are on state ballots. Two will appear in only one county each. The other two are to be decided statewide. If all four are ratified, they would bring to 798 the number of times Alabama voters have amended the 1901 constitution.

Bear in mind that the 798 number does not include proposed amendments that have been defeated at the polls. Nor does the total reflect those proposed by someone only to have the Legislature reject them.

Writing recently in the Anniston Star, Markeshia Ricks noted that Alabama's constitution is easily the longest in the nation and possibly in the world.

Utterly misinformed

Who of sound mind could defend such an unwieldy document? What rational person could make an argument against considering and adopting a new constitution?

And yet almost daily I receive e-mails from people opposed to constitutional reform. What I've found is that they are neither irrational or mentally unbalanced. What they are is misinformed.

Some of them seem to think the Legislature would write - or have to approve - a new constitution. It wouldn't.

Others think that a new constitution would raise taxes. It wouldn't - unless that's what the people of this state wanted, and experience tells us they don't want that.

Still others think special interests would dominate the writing process. But don't special interests already control government and public policy in Alabama? Wouldn't giving the average citizen a chance to make an impact be better than what we have now?

Year in and year out, the 140-member Alabama Legislature regularly considers - and consistently defeats - proposals to allow the voters to decide whether they want a constitutional convention. This year has been no exception. Legislators said no after they were barraged with phone calls from the Alabama Farmers Federation urging that the proposal be killed.

The federation - better known as Alfa - argues that while some changes in the constitution are needed, it would be better to allow the Legislature to write the changes one at a time and submit them to the voters one at a time. Indeed, some legislators say they are doing just that.

Scant results

But where are the results? Where is the section-by-section reform Alfa claims to favor? There isn't much, and such arguments generally mask a self-serving desire to preserve the status quo.

And even Alfa isn't the real culprit. No, the real culprits are cowardly legislators.

Alabama has a lot of citizens who want reform, but they lack the clout of reactionary interests who have to do little to control timid lawmakers. Some reform advocates are so desperate for change that they urge citizens to vote down every proposed amendment, thus bringing the politicians to their knees and forcing them to allow a new constitution to go forward.

But there's little evidence that approach would work. We'd be unable to meet the need for social and economic progress, and we'd still be saddled with the foul legacy of the 1901 constitution, freighted as it is with embarrassing expressions of racism and reflecting the protections accorded to some segments of society at the expense of the citizenry as a whole.

Eight hundred amendments. Eight hundred! We're not there yet, but after Tuesday we could be only two away, and it's highly likely some additional amendments will be back on a ballot sometime later this year.

How long will Alabamians tolerate this travesty? As long, I guess, as they fail to see where their genuine interests reside and as long as they're content with a political system that allows the few to dictate to the many.

John Ehinger's e-mail: john.ehinger@htimes.com

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