Archive for the ‘Constitutional Reform’ Category

Progress

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

HB308, the constitution convention bill, failed to gain enough votes today in the Alabama House of Representatives. The House voted 46-44 in favor of a budget isolation resolution that would have allowed consideration of the bill, short of the required 3/5 majority. The bill would have allowed the citizens of the state to vote for or against calling a convention to rewrite the state’s outdated, unwieldy 1901 constitution.

So — why is this progress? It’s the first time the proposal has made it to a vote of the full House, and more people voted in favor than voted against. I’m not sure why some of our elected officials are afraid to let the people vote, but it’s good to know that the majority in the House is not.

Congratulations to the people at ACCR Inc. and the ACCR Foundation, at Greater Birmingham Ministries, and at other organizations that work for reform — and to all of the citizens who wrote letters, sent emails, and made phone calls to their representatives asking them to support this bill. The path of progress is often slow, but it’s people like you who will make it happen.

Your Legislature At Work

Friday, April 4th, 2008

This week, the Alabama Legislature passed two bills to address dangerous dogs in unincorporated Mobile County. Yep, that’s how our legislators are forced to spend their time, addressing local issues. The 1901 Constitution prohibited home rule, concentrating power in the Legislature and the rich white power brokers who controlled it. (Over the years, municipalities with the requisite political clout have managed to wrest some limited home rule power from the state, which makes the system confusing as well as inefficient.)

Anyway, the bills call for a constitutional amendment that would permit authorities in unincorporated Mobile County to designate certain dogs as dangerous — even if said dogs have not attacked or injured anyone — and hold their owners responsible for restraining them and publicly identifying them as dangerous. That’s right. A local animal control issue requires an amendment to our already bloated Constitution.

In a not at all surprising twist, Dr. Natalie Davis of Birmingham-Southern College pointed out this morning (as part of her weekly legislative review on WBHM) that an amendment was offered to exempt legislators from the dangerous dog law. I’m stunned.  Really.

House Committee Approves Constitution Convention Bill

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

No word on the vote count in this report.  Yahoo!  Now it goes to the full House.

Convention Bill Hearing Wednesday

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

The House Committee on Constitution and Elections will hold a hearing on HB308 this Wednesday at 8:30 AM on the 8th Floor in the House Chamber. This bill, and its companion in the Senate SB243, would permit the people of Alabama to vote on whether or not they want the legislature to call a citizens’ convention to rewrite the 1901 Constitution.

Got that? Our current Constitution allows only two methods for reform, a convention or an article-by-article rewrite, and both must be initiated by the legislature. Citizens must go, metaphorical hats in hand, to beg permission to reform our basic governing document, the one that empowers the legislature in the first place. If you’ve missed out on the discussion of why we need reform, check out Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform and/or read some of my previous rants on the subject.

If you can go to the hearing, do it. Committee members are swayed by strong shows of support, and your presence could help to counter the influence of lobbyists for groups like Alfa, which is adamantly opposed to anything that might threaten its control. And, if nothing else, some of the opposition speakers may provide some entertainment value.

Also, check the list below and contact any or all of the committee members to let them know you support letting the people vote on a convention:

House of Representatives Constitution and Elections Committee

Chair, Jimmy Martin, (D) District 42, Clanton

State House: (334) 242-7714

Cell: (205) 389-1735

JamesMMartin@bellsouth.net

Vice Chair, Tommy Sherer, (D), District 13, Jasper
Cell: (205) 522-2348
State House: (334) 242-7694
tommysherer@yahoo.com

Jay Love, (R), Ranking Minority Member, District 74, Montgomery
Cell: (334) 224-0822
State House: (334) 242-7716
Jlove32376@aol.com

George Bandy, (D), District 83, Opelika
Home: (334) 749-0051
State House: (334) 242-7721
Brandy1@bellsouth.net

Greg Canfield, (R), District 48, Vestavia Hills
District: (205) 824-4734
State House: (334) 242-7763
gcanfield@bellsouth.net

Randy Davis, (R), District 96, Daphne
Work: (251) 442-2552
State House: (334) 242-7724
rmdavis14@aol.com

Chad Fincher, (R), District 102, Semmes
Home: (251) 649-5153
State House: (334) 242-7778
Chadfincher@bellsouth.net

James Gordon, (D), District 98, Saraland
Work: (251) 476-7246
State House: (334) 242-7772
James@jamesogordon.com

Joseph Mitchell, (D), District 103, Mobile
Work: (251) 473-5020
State House: (334) 242-7735
Joseph.Mitchell@alhouse.gov

Mary Moore, (D), District 59, Birmingham
Home: (205) 322-0254
State House: (334) 242-7608
mamoor48@bellsouth.net

Jack Page (D), District 29, Gadsden
Work: (256) 549-8287
State House: (334) 242-7742
reppage@bellsouth.net

Patricia Todd, (D), District 54, Birmingham
Work: (205) 324-9822
State House: (334) 242-7718
patricia.todd@alhouse.gov

Ken Guin, (D), District 14, Carbon Hill
Work: (205-924-0061)
State House: (334) 242-7674
ken.guin@alhouse.gov

Micky Hammon, (R), District 4, Decatur
Home: (256) 350-0375
State House: (334) 242-7709
Mickyhammon@charter.net

Barry Mask, (R), District 31, Wetumpka
Cell: (334) 328-9231
State House: (334) 242-7782
barry.mask@alhouse.gov

It’s Personal

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

My pal Hill Carmichael, Coordinator of the Constitutional Reform Education Campaign at Greater Birmingham Ministries, has a great piece in today’s Birmingham News. Hill’s great-grandfather was a delegate to the 1901 constitutional convention.

…According to convention President John B. Knox, the delegates set out “to establish white supremacy in this state.” To accomplish their goal, the delegates devised a system of government designed to centralize political power in Montgomery, strip cities and counties of the authority to make their own decisions, and discourage black and poor white voters from participating in the democratic process. No constitution is perfect, but the 1901 Alabama Constitution, which remains in effect today, has been almost perfect in achieving what it set out to do.

I am the great-grandson of Archibald Hill Carmichael. I share his name – he was the first, I am the fourth. I am neither a lawyer nor a politician. Instead, I work at Greater Birmingham Ministries, where my sole focus is to coordinate a statewide campaign to create and adopt a new state constitution. So there is something personal about this campaign to educate Alabama citizens about the 1901 Constitution, because my name is literally on it.

But your name is on it, too, as is the name of every Alabamian who allows the 1901 Constitution to remain in effect. By our complacency, we reratify the 1901 Constitution every year. [emphasis mine]

The 1901 Constitution is no more personal to me than it is to hundreds of local leaders in Alabama who cannot do what they know is best for their cities and counties without first asking Montgomery for permission. It is personal to the thousands of Alabamians who, as they struggle to make ends meet, are forced to pay absurdly high sales taxes on basic necessities like food, medicine and baby supplies. It is personal to the public schoolteacher who holds her breath and crosses her fingers every year, hoping and praying that our highly volatile tax revenues are high enough to avoid another year of proration and outdated textbooks. And it is very personal to the thousands of schoolchildren languishing in underfunded schools in the Black Belt, for whom the American Dream will be deferred until the adults decide to scrap a system of taxation that is doing exactly what it was designed to do: keep the wealthy landowners in their rural counties from paying their fair share of taxes…

“By our complacency, we reratify the 1901 Constitution every year.” We reratify a document that has proven so inadequate to the needs of our state that it has been amended 799 times in 106 years (the US constitution, by contrast, has been amended 27 times). That’s an indictment, but also a challenge. How long are we going to wait to meet it?

John Archibald Issues Call to Action on Constitutional Reform

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

John Archibald, the metro columnist for the Birmingham News, has written an excellent column on constitutional reform and the need for bipartisan cooperation and action in Alabama, wrapped around the OTM Dems forum on Tuesday night.

Fixing Alabama’s constitution will be hard. It will require work, good sense, tenacity, selflessness and faith in people who don’t always seem to deserve it.

Reform – a complete replacement by constitutional convention or article-by-article repair through the Legislature – is not and cannot be a partisan issue.

It’s time, as [former Gov. Albert] Brewer said, for a “bold and daring effort.”

He and the others were right. Alabama should think enough of itself to take a shot.

After all, as [Lenora] Pate read from the current constitution Tuesday, all political power is supposed to rest in the people. They have an inalienable right to change their form of government.

That’s right. So I’ve got your preamble for the 21st century.

We are the people of Alabama. This time, we’re going to run this place.

Go read. Then start calling your legislators.

Reports on Constitutional Reform Forum

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

I was really pleased with last night’s Constitutional Reform Forum, which was sponsored by the Over the Mountain Democrats. Approximately 150 people turned out for a high-level discussion of the nuts and bolts of the reform process and the obstacles that stand in the way of a new, improved constitution that would better serve the citizens of Alabama. The evening felt like an upper-level political science seminar, taught by the best and most engaging professors, so of course it was heaven for a political (and policy) geek like me.

Because I was involved in the backstage management of the event, I did not take my usual copious notes, so I’m turning to Danny at Doc’s Political Parlor for in-depth coverage. He’s going to recap the event in several posts, and I’ll add links as they come. Thanks, Danny, for letting me ride your coattails. I’ll keep an eye out for other coverage as well.

Danny’s posts:

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I didn’t have a chance to post this yesterday, but the Monday night showings of “It’s a Thick Book”, Lewis Lehe’s funny and informative documentary on the 1901 Constitution, were also successful. I was part of a small but enthusiastic group at Mountain Brook High School, and the Young Democrats advisor at Hoover High reports that they drew around 100 people, almost all students. Yay! You can watch “It’s a Thick Book” online or get your very own copy of the DVD here.

UPDATE:  I forgot to say that we had students from Hoover, Huffman, and Mountain Brook High Schools in attendance last night.

Constitutional Reform: The Next Generation

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

UPDATE: Times corrected for tonight’s events.   7:00 at Mountain Brook HS, 6:30 at Hoover HS.

Okay, we’ve talked pros and cons long enough. Anyone who doesn’t think Alabama needs a new constitution either hasn’t been paying attention or is benefiting way too much from the bloated, cumbersome, power-concentrated-in-Montgomery status quo. Really — this constitution has been amended 799 times in 106 years. The US Constitution, on the other hand, has been amended only 27 times since its drafting in 1787, and the first ten make up the Bill of Rights. Now it’s time to focus on the best methods for reform and how to get the Alabama PTB moving on an issue that enjoys wide bipartisan support among the state’s citizens.

If you’d like a little refresher course, or if you just enjoy good (and funny) documentaries, come to Mountain Brook High School at 6:30 7:00 or Hoover High School at 7:00 6:30 Monday night for a showing of “It’s a Thick Book”, sponsored by the Young Democrats at each school. Follow that up on Tuesday night at 6:30 with “Constitutional Reform: The Next Generation”, sponsored by the Over the Mountain Democrats. Former Gov. Albert Brewer, a long-time supporter of reform, will give the keynote address, followed by a panel discussion featuring Gov. Brewer, Lenora Pate (Co-Chair of ACCR), Gary Palmer (President of the Alabama Policy Institute), Lynn Douglas (Board President of Alabama Arise), and Rep. Paul DeMarco (R-District 46).

More information here. See you there!

When Real Life Interferes with Blogging

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

I’m sure there’s a prescription medication to treat it, but I’m too busy to find one.  :)

I attended the first annual Bailey Thomson Awards Luncheon today to hear Pulitzer-Prize winner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker.  Great speech, excellent company, and an opportunity to recharge the batteries for the ongoing struggle to reform Alabama’s 1901 Constitution.

Off to dentist appointments now.  More later, I hope — if life stops getting in the way.

Another Year, Another Wasted Opportunity

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

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.