Reform not dead

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 31, 2002

BNI Newswire

Kathy Bowden was in the room last Saturday morning as candidates for the state’s two highest offices talked about constitutional reform at a forum at the Alabama Press Association.

While the views were mixed, Bowden ­ the executive director of Alabama Citizens for Constitution Reform ­ was glad the issue is still getting attention as the campaign season continues.

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ACCR, along with a new Citizens Commission on Constitutional Reform, is seeking to continue building grassroots support for a new document to replace the 1901 Constitution, called racist and unfair by those who want to rewrite it.

That movement suffered a setback of sorts in the last regular legislative session, when lawmakers failed to pass a resolution that would have put the question of holding a statewide convention on reform on the November ballot.

But Bowden said supporters of reform have not stopped talking about the issue. Earlier this month, the new commission held a public meeting in Huntsville to talk about a new constitution.

"The room was filled," Bowden said of the meeting. "It kind of stirs your civic pride."

That meeting, along with three scheduled later this year, are not an attempt to rewrite the constitution. Instead, the meetings will be used as a way to educate Alabamians about the "complicated issue," Bowden said, and to gather their opinions to present later to state officials.

The idea for the commission came about long before Gov. Don Siegelman pushed for a resolution calling for a statewide vote on the idea of a convention ­ just as the idea of reforming the 1901 Constitution has been around for a long time.

Gov. Thomas E. Kilby proposed such a commission in 1923, when he asked the Legislature to call a convention to replace the constitution. In 1969, Gov. Albert Brewer convinced the Legislature to form a commission. It actually drafted a model document, but the Legislature did not act on it.

The new commission is led by Secretary of State Jim Bennett and made up of residents from all over Alabama.

"We now have a genuine citizens’ commission whose members bring open minds and open agendas to the process of fixing Alabama’s government," Bowden said. "They will take our state one step closer to deciding whether it’s time to draft a new constitution for a new century."

But the idea of constitution reform still gets mixed reception across the state. Siegelman, who is running for reelection, is firmly behind the idea, particularly because of what it would mean toward reforming the method of education funding. Siegelman has thrown his support behind a citizens convention to rewrite the constitution.

But U.S. Rep. Bob Riley, his Republican challenger, favors a blue-ribbon commission to look into rewriting the document.

At Saturday’s candidates forum, state treasurer Lucy Baxley ­ the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor ­ said input "must come from all of the people" if Alabama is to rewrite its constitution.

Her opponent, state Sen. Bill Armistead, R-Columnbiana, said he wants to look at reforming the state tax code before tackling the idea of constitution reform. He also noted that the Legislature has "already started this process" of reforming the constitution, passing several rewritten articles in its last regular session.