Constitution reform calls for courage
The Birmingham News
Thursday, October 18, 2007
By John Archibald

Alabama Legislative Session Update and where do we go from here?
What the Polls Say

State constitutions are meant to serve as the most vital organs of state government.

The law of the land, and all that. The principal principles.

If Alabama's constitution were an organ it would be an infected and swollen appendix. It hurts like the dickens, and it just might kill us if we don't cut the bloated thing out.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So Alabama's constitution is the longest in the free world - probably the whole world.

We've heard it all before.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So Alabama's constitution was conceived in racism and dedicated to the proposition that the people of Alabama are too stupid to do better.

It's a big, bad document. We know.

The real statement about Alabama is not that it operates under a 106-year-old paper written to plunder rights from blacks and poor people. The real statement is not that we cling to a document that imperially focuses power in Montgomery, where the Legislature micromanages life from Tennessee to the Gulf Coast.

The real word on Alabama is that people know all that and live with it because they are afraid to roll the dice. They are scared, for obvious reasons, that the Legislature and its special interest sugar daddies will give them something worse.

Perhaps they're even afraid of themselves.

So what will happen before the state cuts out the infected organ and starts anew?

The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy will sit down with the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. Those mistrusted lawyers will praise those distrusted legislators. Democrats will applaud Republicans and, I suppose, the leopard will lie down with the lamb.

Sounds impossible, I know. But we might not be so far away.

All of those unlikely occurrences, except for the biblical bit about the animals, took place Tuesday night at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. A bipartisan panel featuring former Democratic Gov. Albert Brewer and Republican Rep. Paul DeMarco debated not whether the constitution needs to be changed, but how to go about it.

The event was sponsored by the Over the Mountain Democrats, but the panel included Gary Palmer of the conservative Alabama Policy Institute, Lynn Douglas of the more liberal Alabama Arise, and Democratic lawyer Lenora Pate.

The bottom line?

Fixing Alabama's constitution will be hard. It will require work, good sense, tenacity, selflessness and faith in people who don't always seem to deserve it.

Reform - a complete replacement by constitutional convention or article-by-article repair through the Legislature - is not and cannot be a partisan issue.

It's time, as Brewer said, for a "bold and daring effort."

He and the others were right. Alabama should think enough of itself to take a shot.

After all, as Pate read from the current constitution Tuesday, all political power is supposed to rest in the people. They have an inalienable right to change their form of government.

That's right. So I've got your preamble for the 21st century.

We are the people of Alabama. This time, we're going to run this place.

John Archibald's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Write him at

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