Thursday, April 07, 2005
On this day:

Constitution Reform Dead for Another Year

It looks like efforts to rewrite Alabama's constitution will have to wait at least another year. Sen. Ted Little (D.-Auburn), sponsor of a bill that would allow voters to decide whether to call a constitutional convention, says that "unless there's a change in attitude, it's not going to go further in this session."

There are plenty of sound, conservative arguments for reforming, or even rewriting, Alabama's constitution. That's why it is so unfortunate that the most vocal advocates of constitutional reform have adopted a message that seems to say, "Let's rewrite the constitution so that we can raise taxes and increase the size of government."

From that Birmingham News article linked above:

"Since 1901, our constitution has deliberately tied the hands of the state Legislature and local government to levy taxes for needed services," said Kimble Forrister, state coordinator of Alabama Arise, which lobbies for poor people. (B'ham News)

Tax, tax, spend, spend. Ms. Forrister couldn't have made the case against constitutional reform any better.

From the AP:

Supporters and opponents of rewriting the constitution spent more than two hours Tuesday before the Senate Constitution and Elections Committee debating a bill that would allow Alabama residents to vote on whether they want to call a convention to rewrite the constitution. The committee did not vote on the bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn...

Former Gov. Don Siegelman told the committee that during his term as governor he often faced "the limitations" of the constitution.

The conservative/libertarian response to Gov. Siegelman would be that placing "limitations" on government is precisely what constitutions are for. Gov. Siegelman probably had some specific unreasonable limitations in mind, but his assumption seems to be that "limitations" are a bad thing. Statements like that only play into the hands of those who oppose constitutional reform. You'd think that an astute politician like Don Siegelman could come up with a more creative argument.

Continuing with that AP article:

Lenora Pate of Birmingham, co-chair of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said the constitution was written at a time when blacks and whites were segregated in Alabama."It was framed for illicit purposes to preserve segregation, which taints the entire document," Pate said.

Ms. Pate makes a good historical point, but one that is irrelevant to the current debate. The Alabama Constitution isn't alone in having been written at a time when the law required racial segregation. For example, the U.S. Constitution was written at a time when both segregation and slavery were legal in many states. The fact that it afforded protection to those institutions was a good argument for amending it, but it was never a valid argument for rewriting it.

If constitutional reform is ever to succeed in Alabama, its proponents have got to figure out how to alleviate the public's concerns that reform will lead to higher taxes and bigger government. That may mean settling for a series of revisions that are limited to addressing the current constitution's deficiencies, as opposed to a complete rewrite by a constitutional convention. At the very least, it means that would-be reformers need to recognize Alabama's political realities and tailor their message to fit the intended audience. Their current strategy has largely ignored the state's conservative majority, and has thereby produced the expected result - failure.