Again, constitutional reform advocates face an uphill fight
The Huntsville Times
Sunday, February 17, 2008

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For those who believe that government can be made better and that reform is one way to do it, in this state such beliefs require persistence and patience. Fortunately, the citizens who recognize the crying need for a new state constitution are in possession of both qualities, and year in and year out, they are willing to act on them.

Even so, making things better is never easy.

The Legislature's first two weeks in session saw the Senate Judiciary Committee vote 7-1 for a bill to have a referendum in which state voters would decide whether they wanted a constitutional convention.

While committee action is an important first step, it is only a first step, and one that has been repeated - to no avail - in the Legislature for several years now.

Note that all the bill would provide is a chance for the voters to say whether a convention would be called. They would have to vote again for delegates and yet again to adopt any proposed constitution that might be put on the ballot.

Approval at the committee level in the House is also expected. Even so, reform advocates put the chances of full passage by the Legislature at 40 percent at best.

What's the problem? The problem is that powerful interests fear a new constitution would open the door to tax reform and to home rule for local governments.

Are such things to be feared? No, and the reason they are not to be feared is that the decisions on these and other questions would be left to the voters, or, in a few cases, to elected local officials who must answer to the voters at election time.

Why do we need a new constitution?

The Alabama Constitution of 1901 is cluttered and soiled by the racist language of another era. The awful language remains even though state and federal laws have long since nullified such provisions.

The 1901 constitution gives special protections to powerful interests while denying to the average citizen the remedies customary in representative democracies.

The 1901 constitution denies almost all meaningful authority to the state's main political subdivisions - the 67 counties - while vesting virtually all power over state and local issues to the 140 legislators themselves.

The 1901 constitution now incorporates almost 400,000 words and some 800 amendments. By some accounts, it is the longest constitution in the world. And yet it swells almost daily.

No organization has done more to promote constitutional reform than the grass-roots Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. The organization urges the public to contact their legislators immediately and ask them to allow the voters to decide this issue for themselves.

Advocates point out, and rightly so, that elected politicians who are eager to pick up the chant of "Let the people decide" are oddly and hypocritically mute when the people's right to decide is applied to constitutional reform.

Urge your House and Senate members to support a referendum on calling a constitutional reform. If they refuse or remain silent, demand an answer until you get one. If they say they favor amending the constitution one article at a time, ask them why they haven't done so.

For more information on constitutional reform, visit constitutionalreform.org. It's your constitution, your state and your future.

By John Ehinger, for the editorial board. E-mail: john.ehinger@htimes.com.

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