The citizens of Alabama are still stuck with our 106-year-old Constitution, a document that has been amended nearly 800 times since its (almost certainly) fraudulent ratification. The Birmingham News is not happy, and neither am I.
This past week 106 years ago, powerful, affluent white men began plotting Alabama’s future.
Beginning May 21, they met in Montgomery to write a new state constitution. Their post-Reconstruction aims were very clear: to preserve white supremacy through restrictions that rid the state’s voting rolls of blacks and poor whites; to constrict and concentrate government power in Montgomery, where special interests could more easily control the Legislature; and to keep property taxes low for the farm, timber, coal and ore industries that ran the state.
The delegates accomplished their mission. So well, in fact, that within a few years, some of them recognized the folly of their 1901 Constitution. Delegate Emmet O’Neal, as governor in 1915, said: “No real or permanent progress is possible in Alabama, until the present fundamental law is thoroughly revised and adapted to meet present conditions.”
Despite Gov. O’Neal’s realization, and the efforts of many, many citizens over the past century, we still have this albatross around our necks.
But this has been the Alabama way for 106 years. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. Most lawmakers and the special interests that control them like things as they are. Even without this year’s Senate meltdown in the current legislative session, there would be no move toward a new constitution.
The 1901 framers did their job just a bit too well. No matter how many citizens support reform, the power to act lies solely with the legislature. And for most — not all – legislators, lobbyist pressure and scare tactics count for more than the wishes of constituents. The News pulls no punches in its closing statement.
The 1901 Constitution is a shameful fraud perpetrated on the people of Alabama. So is the 2007 Legislature’s purposeful refusal to do anything about it.
The lobbyists who oppose reform and their pet legislators should be ashamed of their inaction, but I expect they lost that ability long ago. We have to live with this crowd for three more years. Then I suggest we vote them out and elect some people who are not so wedded to power that they refuse to do what’s best for the state.