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Governor wise to support new constitution

Staff Editorial

March 31, 2001 10 PM

As public support grows for reforming Alabama’s constitution, Gov. Don Siegelman is jumping on the bandwagon supporting an overhaul of the century-old document, despite earlier flip-flopping on the issue.

Earlier this week, Siegelman requested that he be included among speakers at an April 4 rally at the state capitol supporting a new constitution. Previously, Siegelman said he wouldn’t support the idea without "a ground swell of public support," and while he now appears to support constitutional reform, he appears to be sticking to his guns.

"What the governor has said is that the recent circumstance of proration and education funding problems has brought light to the fact that the state’s education system needs reforming. To do that, you have to reform the government, and to do that you have to reform the constitution," said Carrie Kurlander, Siegelman’s public relations spokesperson. "Specifically, what the governor hopes is that his support will add value to the efforts and what is already being done by the groups that have been looking at constitutional reform."

Despite a statement earlier in his administration declaring he would not tackle constitutional reform during this term, Kurlander said the governor has supported the effort since 1976. Siegelman continues to believe that it is important to the success of constitutional reform that the people of the state be involved in the process, Kurlander said.

"There have been tremendous efforts during the past year," Kurlander said. "The governor is really interested in finding out what the people of Alabama have to say about reform and what they think needs reforming."

Alabama’s constitution was originally penned in 1901, and since its was composed, it has received 665 amendments, making it the largest governing document in the world. It is almost 40 times as long as the U.S. Constitution and 12 times as long as the national average of state constitutions. These facts are just a few of the arguments backers of constitutional reform, such as Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, are using to support their cause.

The more forceful arguments come from a deeper analysis of the document itself. Some of the criticisms of the constitution include: a lack of home rule which requires legislators to spend 40 percent of their time addressing local issues; a tax structure burdened by the influence of special interests, such as large landowners, which neglects public schools; and low taxes that fail to adequately address funding issues such as infrastructure, public housing, and education, among other problems.

There are two main ways to rewrite the constitution. The Legislature can rewrite each article, one by one, and then submit each article to Alabama voters for separate approval in a statewide referendum. The House has already begun efforts in this method.

Last year, the House passed two revised articles, Articles 1 and 2, which both died in the Senate, according to a spokesperson for House Speaker Seth Hammett. The two articles have passed the House during this session and the chamber is currently working on revisions of Articles 3 and 4.

In the second method, the Legislature would vote for a constitutional convention, whereby delegates would be elected to rewrite the document and then submit the results to Alabama voters in a statewide referendum.

A third way has been proposed, though not adopted, in the current Legislative session which would allow the Legislature to rewrite the document and then submit it to voters for approval.

"If we are going to do it, it has to be done right," Kurlander said. "What the governor is interested in is hearing from the people. This is something where he wants to find out what the people want."

We support the governor’s recent statements and the position represented by his spokesperson. It’s high time to re-write the constitution. But the tricky part is going to be how we do it, should we take that wise course.

Certainly we don’t want legislators, governors, or special-interest groups penning a new constitution. We need to hear from the people. The only way to do this is through the convention methid. As long as the governor supports this method, he has our support on this issue.  

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