Alabama Students for Constitutional Reform
The Exponent, February 10, 2005
By Derek Chris, staff reporter
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ASCR UAH Chapter

Imagine, only for a moment, that in this day and age, you happen to live in a state that has a constitution that was written way back in 1901.

Everything from mosquito control to bingo is included within the 104 year-old constitution and because of the complicated and punitive tax laws set forth in this state constitution, the poorest citizens of that state pay nearly eleven percent of their income in state taxes, while the wealthiest one percent has to pay just four percent of their income to state taxes.

Imagine that because of the way that the constitution is written, the state legislature spends nearly 50 percent of its time debating issues that should be left for the cities and counties to handle on their own.

Even worse, imagine that the constitution in this unfortunate state is loaded with racist and sexist language and, up until the year 2000, the state constitution said that "any marriage between any white person and a negro, or descendant of a negro" is illegal.

Well, the bad news is that you actually do live in such a state-the state of Alabama. The good news is that there is a group of students right here on campus that is working to change Alabama's outdated constitution, but they need your help to make it possible.

Under the advisement of Dr. Thomas Williams of the Political Science Department and recently chartered by the SGA, the UAH chapter of Alabama Students for Constitutional Reform (ASCR) has been actively gaining momentum since day one (http://ascr-uah.tripod.com). With a plan of action in hand, a full complement of senior officer positions already staffed, and nearly 30 members signed up on the roster so far, ASCR President Michael Varchetta has high hopes for the group.

"In the short term, our goal is to have a petition drive sometime in March and collect 1000 signatures by the end of the semester," says Varchetta.

He points out that the signatures can include UAH staff, students, and any citizen of Alabama.

For the group's long term goals, Varchetta said that "a mock constitutional convention is in the works." Details of the convention will be provided later, as the idea is still in the initial planning stages. ASCR Vice President Travis Edmonds also hinted that readers of the Exponent will soon see a series of articles "similar to The Federalist Papers, called "The Alabama Papers."

In addition, the officers of ASCR have promised to keep the group's meetings positive and goal-oriented. In fact, by insisting that the group use Robert's Rules of Order, Vice President for Student Affairs, John Fowler, is helping keep the group's meetings focused and organized.

"Not many clubs on campus use Robert's Rules of Order, but we feel it is necessary to conduct business in a professional manner," says Fowler.

Not only is the UAH chapter of ASCR creating a buzz around campus, but the group has gained statewide recognition as well. The UAH chapter of ASCR is the fourth student chapter in the state that has been created and now joins the ranks of U of A, Auburn, and UAB. These student driven organizations are loosely affiliated with the statewide group, Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR), whose members were the initial founders of the state-wide constitutional reform movement about five years ago (http://www.constitutionalreform.org/).

For the first general meeting of ASCR on Friday, February 4, a distinguished guest speaker was invited to help give guidance and direction to the group. Hartwell Lutz, former member of the Alabama House of Representatives from 1970-1978, is a retired judge and lawyer and also serves as on the state board of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. When asking Lutz what the biggest hurdle facing the constitutional reform movement in the state was, he replied that "special interests are literally embedded within the amendments to the constitution."

In other words, powerful lobby groups and special interests in Montgomery have actually written amendments into the state's constitution in order to consolidate money and power in a small number of hands controlling it. Lutz went further to say that the grass-roots constitutional reform movement can only achieve success by "educating the citizens of Alabama on the importance of the issue through an ongoing public information campaign and collecting enough signatures on the petition to make a difference." This, it seems, is the only way to get the attention of the power brokers in Montgomery.

In fact, not only is Alabama's constitution the longest state constitution in the United States, but weighing in at a massive 315,000 words and 743 amendments, Alabama's constitution is the largest constitution in the world, and the most heavily amended as well. It's not hard to see, then, that everything from legislating bounties on beaver tails to "suppress[ing] the evil practice of dueling" is covered in the state's constitution. Alabama's constitution is 40 times larger than the US constitution, and about 12 times larger than the average US state constitution.

Furthermore, some critics have argued that instead of serving as the framework for how Alabama's government is supposed to function, the constitution has mutated into an extension of the state code of laws-laws for entire state. This is due to the fact that the constitution has become nothing more than that a never-ending series of "quick-fixes" and special interest power grabs at the expense of Alabama citizens and taxpayers.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that one of the main objectives of the constitution of 1901 was to rob African-Americans and poor whites of the right to vote. Moreover, Alabama families are responsible for paying state taxes after $4,600 in earnings. In contrast, Mississippi does not collect taxes on earnings until a family makes more that $19,000 a year. In short, the current state constitution is outdated, inefficient, punitive, contains provisions over trivial matters, and drastically needs to be changed.

ASCR meets every Tuesday night at 6:00 PM in the University Center in Room 127. The group is a non-partisan organization and open to participation from all UAH staff and students, as well as the general public.

They need your help now! Those interested in learning more about ASCR can contact the Vice President of Membership, Robert Drake, at draker@email.uah.edu or go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/UAH_ASCR.

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