Reforming state constitution key to solving problems, says campaigner
Mobile Press-Register
Tuesday, August 14, 2007

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Many of the big problems in Alabama stem from a single 106-year-old source, according to a spokesman for Greater Birmingham Ministries.

It's Alabama's 1901 Constitution.

"When you really get to talking about a way to solve the major problems in Alabama, that way is the Alabama Constitution," said Hill Carmichael, coordinator of the group's constitutional reform campaign. "Whether you're talking about public transportation or tax reform -- pretty much anything you talk about -- it's the constitution. The way we say it is, the constitution is every issue and every issue is the constitution."

On Aug. 30, Greater Birmingham Ministries will be honored for its campaign at the first-ever Bailey Thomson Awards Luncheon in Birmingham, sponsored by the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform Foundation.

The ministries group, established in 1969 to deal with urban crisis in the Birmingham area, will receive the Partner of the Year Award for its efforts to help low-income communities understand constitutional reform issues.

Thomson, a University of Alabama journalism professor and former Press-Register editor, was a longtime constitutional reform advocate who established the ACCR Foundation. The Alabama native, who died in 2003, was a finalist for the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for a series of Press-Register editorials about Alabama's constitutional problems.

Registration for the luncheon is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m., with the awards being presented during the noon meal.

The keynote speaker is Cynthia Tucker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The $50 per person tickets can be purchased through the organization's Web site, www.constitutionALreform.org, or by contacting Mary Ivey, the foundation's special projects coordinator, at 205-602-4386. The new deadline for tickets is Monday.

Two other awards will also be given at the event:

Lewis Lehe, a 20-year-old junior math and economics major at the University of Pittsburgh, will receive the Citizen Educator of the Year Award for his documentary, "It's a Thick Book."

Working with a $1,000 grant from the ACCR Foundation, Lehe spent two summers developing a 45-minute film that informs voters about the constitution. A 2005 Homewood High School graduate, Lehe said he got the idea for the film during the 2004 presidential election when he had "to vote on some county issue in Macon County and something in Trussville.

"I thought it was really bizarre that I got to vote on them," he said, adding that he wanted "to make things that explain politics in a way that it's not boring, but still relevant. I like to make government simpler for people."

Lehe's film is available at www.constitutionalreform.org/IATB.shtml.

Thomas E. Corts will receive the Bailey Thomson Award for his early leadership and continued support for the foundation. Corts, the former president of Birmingham's Samford University and former interim chancellor of the state's two-year college system, recalled Thomson as someone who couldn't be discouraged.

"I think so much of the tireless effort that Bailey gave is an example of the kind of selfless service that Alabama has benefited from," Corts said.

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