Will constitutional change be possible in Alabama?
Following is the last in a series of columns by members of the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. The previous 10 articles in this series have discussed the problems with Alabama's constitution. Its excessive length, racist intent and language, removal of local control, contradictions, and other issues have been discussed. The purpose of this article is to consider the question, "Where do we go from here?"
By Susan D. Parker
First, a quick review of how the process of developing a new constitution might work. In 1999, former Gov. Albert Brewer and Samford University President Tom Corts, along with hundreds of other citizens, founded the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. The organization's call for a new constitution emphasizes citizen involvement from the ground up. Citizens would be the authors and framers of the constitution and all Alabamians of voting age would have the opportunity to vote several times during the process.
While the Alabama Legislature would have to pass a "Call for a Constitutional Convention", the delegates would be citizens elected on a non-partisan basis. The "call" would outline the number of delegates, how they would be selected, when the convention would be held and how long the convention might last. ACCR suggests 105 delegates—one from each state house district. This would allow for geographical distribution as well as racial balance. The people would then vote on this legislation to call for a convention.
If the voters approve this legislation, the people would then vote to elect delegates. Those chosen would convene and draft a new constitution. While this sounds like a daunting task, there are several drafts already available, as well as examples of other states' constitutions and various documents available, to give the delegates a "starting place." Before any constitution could be adopted, the people again would vote and, if approved by the majority, we would have a new constitution. It is evident, therefore, that people would have ample input into the process.
This process will not be easy. For the Legislature to be convinced to call for a constitutional convention, a groundswell of people from all walks of life must express their wishes. Powerful special-interest groups who fear losing their power will be in opposition. At the current time, many benefit from having the power in Montgomery instead of back home with local communities.
When the Legislature becomes convinced and puts a "Call for a Constitutional Convention" on the ballot, scare tactics will be used, as they have been in the past, to try to prevent a new constitution. People who are informed and knowledgeable will be able to see through these tactics.
During the past six years, ACCR has been working to educate thousands of people about the need for a new constitution. To continue spreading the word and to address the difficult challenge of informing people about the process, the Greater Birmingham Ministries, an inter-faith organization serving the needs of the poor for 35 years, has developed a constitutional reform education campaign called "Alabamians Bringing Democracy Home."
Throughout the state, training programs are being held with small groups of people who will then share the information with their respective communities. Peer to peer, one small group at a time, individuals from all economic backgrounds and all communities will be involved. With information being shared among people who know and trust one another, it will be more difficult for the scare tactics to work and the people will prevail to bring democracy home.
Susan D. Parker, Ph.D. is a trainer with Greater Birmingham Ministries. Any individual or group who wishes to learn more about the need for a new constitution may call her. Her phone number is (256)247-2877. Her E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.