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Timing right for reform

Special to The Messenger

Advocates of reforming the Alabama Constitution may have a window of opportunity during this 2002 election year, a speaker told about 40 students, faculty and staff at Troy State University’s Hawkins-Adams-Long Hall of Honor Tuesday.

Dr. Gerald W. Johnson, director of Capital Survey Research Center in Montgomery and a presenter with Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR), was the keynote speaker at a seminar sponsored by the Troy State University Faculty Advisory Council, the TSU Chapter of the Higher Education Partnership and the ACCR.

"At this point, we’re the closest (to constitutional reform) that we’ve been in a long time," Dr. Johnson said.

Dr. Johnson presented an overview of the history of Alabama’s six constitutions, pointing out that at least six governors have proposed rewriting the 1901 Constitution that is currently used today. He said Alabama’s Constitution is too cumbersome and restricts local self-governance, also known as home rule.

"About 40 percent of the bills considered by the Alabama Legislature have only local impact," Dr. Johnson said.

He said Alabama’s Constitution has grown past the stage of being a general statement of rights of government to being a statute book swollen to 10 times the size of the U.S. Constitution. The Alabama Constitution is 315,000 words, while other states’ constitutions average 26,000 words.

But it’s not the size that matters, it’s what the constitution does-or fails to do, Johnson said.

"A Constitution should outline basic rules," he said. "It should not be a broad-based document. Alabama’s Constitution fails to provide the basic rules of the game."

Dr. Johnson said the groundswell of support created by ACCR and other reform-minded groups creates the political climate to change the constitution, pointing out that three major gubernatorial candidates have endorsed reform.

In the final analysis, Dr. Johnson said, the actions of six major advocacy groups may decide reform: the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Chapter of AFL-CIO, the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association and the Alabama Education Association.