Education key to constitutional reform
Published 8:59 am Wednesday, September 20, 2000
It's more than 310,000 words long.
We've amended it 665 times.
There are 46 additional amendments being considered by Alabama voters in November.
It's 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution, which has been amended only 27 times. Ten of those amendments are the Bill of Rights.
The Alabama State Constitution has been called a "laughing stock."
Yesterday, area Rotary and Lions Club members had the opportunity to learn more about the impact of our current state constitution.
According to Bailey Thomson, associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama and coordinator of his department's graduate studies, the current constitution needs to be changed.
Grassroots efforts are being made to educate citizens on the impact of our current state constitution.
Thomson says the constitution protects special interest groups, prevents local governments from addressing local issues, preserves a failed tax structure and demands too much of the state legislators' time in dealing with local issues that should be taken care of through home rule.
Written in 1901, our state constitution had one purpose, to limit the ability of blacks and poor whites to vote.
In 1900, there were 181,000 registered African American voters in Alabama. By 1908, that number had dropped to approximately 3,700.
In that same time period, there were 233,000 white men registered to vote. By 1903, that number had fallen to 41,000.
According to proponents for change, the 1901 Constitution dramatically limited democracy while protecting the interests of white elites.
The long term impact of such action was to discourage a civic life in Alabama.
Thomson and others interested in rewriting the constitution believe our strategy should be one of telling the truth to citizens about our "shameful" constitution.
He says a grassroots effort is the answer.
Working through local chambers of commerce and civic groups, a group called the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform is making it their priority to involve citizens in the fight to revise our state constitution.
Speaking to the two clubs, Thomson said it is amazing what a few letters written to elected officials can accomplish. He said our state legislators tend to turn their attention to issues that a few concerned citizens care enough to write about.
He added that it is time Alabama citizens realize our political system will not produce changes to make ours a great state. He insists it will take an organized effort by citizens to change our current state of affairs.
According to Thomson, several states in the southeast have rewritten their constitutions. Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida all have new constitutions and could serve as a model for Alabama.
It seems to us, our state constitution is not only out-of-date but is fundamentally flawed due to its original intent.
Whether you agree or disagree about changing our current constitution, one thing is clear.
As citizens, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the origin and function of our constitution. We must seek to gain an understanding of its impact on city, county and state government.
It is our civic duty to question our elected officials and to express our opinion on issues that impact the common good.
As Alabama citizens and voters, we can take a posture of apathy and continue to allow special interest groups to influence state government or we can be heard.
Our challenge is to take a stand, become educated on the impact of our constitution and then work in an organized effort to change our state for good.
To learn more about our state constitution, visit www.constitutionalreform.org.