Governor addresses state

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Clanton Advertiser

MONTGOMERY – Gov. Don Siegelman made it clear Tuesday night he expects the Alabama Legislature to put the issue of a constitutional convention on the ballot this November, but there was an air of skepticism from elected officials.

In the election-year speech, Siegelman opened the regular session Tuesday night asking legislators to pass a resolution calling for a convention. He also seeks the voters’ right to decide in November whether to call a convention, linking it with reform in education.

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The governor said the state Constitution "keeps the special interests in charge." Siegelman said he will fight for taking power away from special interests "because we are right, and the special interests are wrong.

"So tonight, I call on you to put a call for a constitutional convention on the ballot in November," he said in the televised address.

Siegelman asked for an amendment on the November ballot "that gives local communities the constitutional authority to decide what’s best for their own local schools," adding local officials come to Montgomery with "hat in hand" for help.

The governor also pushed other items, including more protections from civil actions for National Guard members, a prescription drug program for seniors, a crime package and the death penalty for terrorist attacks.

But the speech heavily concentrated on schools and constitutional reform, and was critical of those who supported phone taxes over his plan to change business taxes to stop proration this year, calling it "a step backward in tax fairness."

Siegelman said in order to make the tax system fair, "we have to rip the power out of the hands of the special interests, get it out of Montgomery, and give it back to the people."

Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, who plans to run for the Republican nomination for governor to challenge Siegelman, told reporters afterward he has his own plan for a constitutional convention, which he said guarantees special interests will not be in charge.

Under his plan, Windom said, no current elected officials would serve; campaign contributions would only be $50 each; there would be no donations from lobbyists; and a convention would be held outside Montgomery.

Also, the voters would vote on the final document. Windom also called for a constitutional amendment allowing local county governments to decide local administrative affairs and another which would allow county governments to put referendums on the ballot to pay for education.

"We have a program. He has a concept," Windom said.

State Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, said while it was a "great speech," he said he is not hearing any major push in Montgomery for constitutional reform, except for partial rewrites in the Legislature. He said Siegelman’s crime package "will probably go through," although he noted constitutional reform probably would not.

State Sen. Armistead, R-Columbiana, who is considering a bid for lieutenant governor,

said of Siegelman’s constitutional package, "I don’t think it’s going to happen. He’s clearly an angry man," adding that Siegelman was taking out anger on different factions and that he was probably "angry at himself" as well for the current state of affairs.

"He’s a desperate man" portraying himself as someone who can solve all the state’s problems," Armistead said. "He’ll run against all the enemies of the world."

Armistead said while the governor’s speech talked of attracting more industries, which received tax breaks, he also was critical of major businesses for not paying more tax.