Home rule key issue

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 7, 2002

News Editor

On Jan. 24, Governor Don Siegelman introduced legislation to establish a constitutional convention and since that time has not stood firm on the issue.

Siegelman said his whole purpose for backing a constitutional convention would be to "empower the people of Alabama to improve their schools and eliminate special interest influence." He said the only way to do this is to turn the school systems in the state over to the local communities.

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"If we ever want to fund our schools the way we should and make our tax system fair, we have to rip the power out of the hands of the special interests, move it out of Montgomery and give it back to the people," said Siegelman.

Sen. Pat Lindsey and Rep. Marcel Black are sponsoring the legislation proposed by the governor, who asked that the legislation be assigned to both the House and Senate Rules Committees and that the bill not be voted on for 30 days. He also wants the proceedings to be held out of Montgomery and no lobbyists allowed within 30 feet of the convention site.

Representative Allen Boothe (D-Troy) said the numbers he has seen in the legislature indicate that most are reluctant to localize the control of schools. He said he feels it would be best to let the people vote on the issue.

As for the governor’s call for a constitutional convention Boothe said, "The best question is who do you want to conduct a convention?" He added that he feels it would be very hard to keep special interest out of a constitutional convention.

On Feb. 5, Governor Siegelman said he will support a grassroots group’s constitutional convention proposal, and continue to advocate the banning of elected officials and lobbyists from the convention. He has directed the sponsors of his legislation to back the proposal of Alabama Citizens for Constitution Reform, a longtime grassroots group.

Siegelman also indicated he feels the people of the state should be allowed to vote on whether or not they want a constitutional convention. "I don’t believe we’re gonna ever get where we need to be if we wait for the Legislature to do it," he said.

Siegelman has asked the members of the Legislature to pass a bill that would put the issue on a ballot asking voters whether they want a constitutional convention or not. He said he believes what scares most of the special interest groups is the possibility of the people coming together.

Even the ACCR’s plan differs somewhat from what the governor has said he wants, Siegelman said he still backs them because getting the idea to the voters is the most important thing.

Governor Siegelman is currently touring the state in an attempt to drum up support for his proposal for a constitutional convention. On Tuesday, he was in Alexander City, where he spoke at Radney Elementary School on the subject of education funding reform.

"If we want to provide funding for our schools, we need to rip the power out of the hands of the people in Montgomery," Siegelman told those attending the meeting. "A ‘yes’ vote means you’ll have a convention (to rewrite the Constitution). The Legislature has had 100 years, and they haven’t done it."

"I think a constitutional convention would work if the participants are fairly selected," said Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D-Luverne). "There should be across the board representatives of all people from all walks of life," he said.

Mitchell said he would like to see the people vote on the issue and let them choose in what means such a convention would take place, whether by delegates or by legislature precincts.

Opponents of Constitution reform have complained that it is an attempt to make it easier to impeach officials – notably Chief Justice Roy Moore, who with his wife has actively campaigned against reform.

Gary Palmer, President of the Alabama Policy Institute, believes there is no way to keep special interests groups out of a constitutional convention.

"The bottom line is that, one way or another, special interest groups will dominate a constitutional convention," said Palmer. " Whether it is the big mules or the new progressives running the show, it will still be special interests and not working class Alabamians. Ultimately, the only input they will have in the process will be after the damage is done.