Reform dies in House

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 22, 2002

BNI Newswire

Supporters of a constitutional convention were vowing Thursday to continue the fight for reform by the people after the state House failed to pass a resolution that would give voters the choice to call a convention.

The House did not vote for cloture on the resolution, which means they did not vote to call off debate and call for a formal vote. Some legislators had predicted the day before that debate would be called early and the measure would never make it to a full vote because it did not have the votes for passage anyway.

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Rip Andrews, a spokesman for Gov. Don Siegelman, said the governor will now meet with convention supporters to "decide the best way to go about" continuing the effort.

Secretary of State Jim Bennett, who supports calling a convention, said he was disappointed with the House’s failure to pass the resolution.

"There’s wasn’t much statesmanship up there today, but I did see a lot of politics," said Bennett, who said the reform movement "remains very much alive."

The decision not to place the question of a convention on the Nov. 5 ballot was a missed opportunity – and he predicted it will not be received well by voters.

"This is not a repudiation of constitutional revision, but a call to renew our efforts," Bennett said.

Dr. Thomas Corts, president of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, blamed "election year politics" for the failure of the resolution to pass.

"Ours may be the only state in the union where simply allowing citizens to vote becomes controversial," said Corts, who is president of Samford University. "All we’ve asked is that the people be allowed to exercise their right to vote on whether to convene a constitutional convention. Alabamians have done that six times in our history.

"It is unfortunate that today election year politics blocked serious consideration of this critical issue for our state. Although the Legislature used its power to thwart the clear and unambiguous will of the people to decide this issue, the people will not be fooled by election year posturing."

Corts said ACCR would "redouble its efforts" toward convincing people of the need for reform through a convention.

"American democracy has one unstoppable, self-correcting element: when people know and understand what is wrong, they will not be deterred from setting things right."

ACCR’s focus will not be on shaping the people’s agenda for the upcoming election season, Corts said.

"We will not rest until we have a new constitution for a better Alabama," he said.

Siegelman agreed the "fight for a new constitution is not over."

"In fact, it is just beginning," he said. "The people of Alabama can be trusted to come together in a convention to rewrite the constitution, and when they do, they will demand that the big corporations pitch in to help our schools.

"This Legislative session has brought unprecedented attention to the issue. More Alabamians are aware of the problem the constitution creates on school funding. More Alabamians are aware that our constitution allows big corporations to get away without paying a penny in education taxes. More Alabamians are aware that the constitution enshrines a tax structure where the people who make the least pay the most and the big corporations who make the most pay the least.

"More Alabamians now know that the only way to set these wrongs to right is to rip the power out of the hands of the special interests in Montgomery and give it back to the people."

Supporters of a convention say that the process would be the best way to rewrite the constitution.

Opponents of a convention have included the Legislative Black Caucus, which said last week it was wary that minorities would not be represented at a convention.

Others who oppose a convention say reform could be accomplished with an appointed commission – a move Florida took in recent years – or with the amendatory process already used.

Still others say reform could be accomplished by having the Legislature rewrite the document article by article.

The House and Senate have both passed some rewritten articles of the Constitution – including two which have passed both houses. The Senate has proposed a summer special election at which voters could decide whether to accept those new articles.