Can we talk about the constitution?
The Birmingham News
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

THE ISSUE: Thanks to college students for raising an issue today that most candidates are ignoring.

So when is the last time you've heard a candidate, any candidate (but especially those for the Legislature), talk unprompted about a new constitution for Alabama?

That subject is far down the list behind things like "why voters should elect me," "why they shouldn't vote for my opponent," "no new taxes," "traditional Alabama values," "tough on crime" and "why you should pay no attention to that liberal special-interest money funding my campaign."

Usually, at least in the editorial page's experience in endorsement interviews with a slew of legislative candidates this year, constitution reform is something they talk about only when asked. That's why it's nice to see groups of college students all over Alabama taking part in an event today designed to urge candidates for the Legislature to support a citizens convention to rewrite Alabama's 1901 Constitution.

Today, the College Council for Constitutional Reform will hold events at 15 institutions: the University of Alabama, Birmingham-Southern College, Troy University, Judson College, Faulkner University, Samford University, Miles College, Alabama A&M University, Drake State Technical College, Athens State University, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the University of Montevallo, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Mobile and Bishop State Community College. Some schools will hold afternoon rallies. At others, students will hold either 12-hour or 24-hour readings of the nation's longest constitution by far.

Twenty-four hours, believe it or not, is not nearly long enough. Last year, UA students read the Alabama Constitution for 24 hours straight and made it only to Amendment 464 of almost 800 amendments, said Matthew Lewis, co-chair of the College Council and the chair of the UA student chapter of the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform.

"We never even came close to finishing," he told ACCR's annual meeting earlier this month. "It's only going to get worse."

That's because one of many grievous flaws in the constitution is its failure to allow local governments to govern themselves. As a result, counties, especially, must beg for help from the Legislature to pass laws that county commissions ought to be able to handle themselves. So there are dozens, hundreds, of silly amendments that have no business being in a state's fundamental charter, such as letting a county pick up dead animals, or control mosquitoes, or raise court fees.

Lewis is right the constitution will only get worse, and longer. This year's ballot has three proposed amendments that must be voted on statewide and 19 that require approval from voters only in affected counties.

Today's events are being billed as an effort to urge legislative candidates to "let Alabama's future vote." It is time candidates for the Legislature get that message; lawmakers in this year's legislative session ignored a measure that would have allowed voters on Election Day in two weeks to decide whether they want a constitutional convention.

College students across the state deserve a hearty round of applause for talking about constitution reform - especially since most candidates aren't.

2006 The Birmingham News

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