What could be more patriotic?
The Birmingham News
Monday, February 18, 2008

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THE ISSUE: The Legislature should let Alabama voters decide whether they want a citizens convention to write a new state constitution.

In a burst of patriotism (opportunism?), the state House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow homeowners to fly the American flag, even if neighborhood covenants or rules ban such displays.

The bill now goes to the Senate, and even that bickering bunch seems unlikely to turn down this bill. After all, what could be more patriotic? (Opportunistic?)

Well, how about letting the people of this great state vote? We saw on Feb. 5 what happens when Alabamians are motivated to go to the polls. They turned out in record numbers to have their say in presidential primaries that, for the first time in more than two decades, actually mattered.

The Legislature has a chance to show some real patriotism with a bill that would let Alabama voters decide whether they want a convention of citizens to draft a new state constitution.

Alabama's 1901 Constitution doesn't exactly make your heart swell with patriotism. It was designed to prevent blacks and poor whites from voting. It made it easier for powerful special interests, instead of regular citizens, to have a voice in state government. It kept power from local governments, which best know how to deal with local issues.

More than 100 years after the constitution went into effect following a fraudulent election, it is past time for Alabama to replace it with a modern document designed to make state and local governments more efficient. The convention bill, sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, in the House and Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, in the Senate, is the first step toward making that happen.

The bill does nothing more than let Alabama voters have their say about whether they want a constitutional convention, and it lays out a timetable for that convention.

If the Legislature were to pass the bill this session, voters in the June 2010 primary would vote a convention up or down. In November 2010, they would elect delegates to that convention. Those delegates - two from each of the 110 House districts for a total of 210 - would convene in June 2011 to begin drafting a new fundamental charter for Alabama. Voters in the 2012 general election would decide whether to approve the new constitution.

The bill has inched closer to reality each year. In 2006, a House committee killed the bill, while a Senate committee, perhaps sensing a free "there's-no-danger-of-this-happening-so-I-can-appear-to-be-forward-thinking" vote, later approved the bill unanimously. Last year, the bill made it out of committee in both chambers, but never made it to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote.

This year? Constitution reformers are optimistic. Newton's House bill has 18 co-sponsors, while 15 senators signed onto Little's bill.

"This is a great initial response to the growing, grass-roots momentum throughout the state of voters, students and organizations urging all legislators to simply trust the people by passing HB 308 and SB 243 to let the people vote," Lenora Pate, state chair for Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said in a statement.

Lawmakers as recently as the 2006 legislative elections trusted the people's wisdom enough to elect (or re-elect) them to office. They should trust the people's wisdom to vote on a constitutional convention.

After all, what could be more patriotic?

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