Alabama Needs A New State Constitution

Posted: November 1, 2009 in Politics
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It is far past time that the state of Alabama adopted a new Constitution.  Here are just a few of the reasons:

  • The racist basis.  The current Constitution has its basis in racism and to a lesser extent discrimination against the poor.  The Constitution today, which was adopted in 1901, was pretty much created for the sole purpose of keeping African-Americans and poor Whites out of the political process.  Further, every indication is that it passed only through voter fraud (otherwise you have to believe that Blacks actually voted to take away their own right to vote, which of course is pretty far-fetched).  Naturally, the amendments that limited voter rights have been overturned by federal courts, but I think it is still important to know the mindset of those that created this document.  The document DOES still retain racist language, such as the requirement for separate schools for “white and colored children”.  I was pretty dismayed when an attempt to even remove that bit of language failed in 2004, as for some reason local right-wing radio decided that removing this language would somehow create a new tax.  So even small attempts to modify the Constitution have failed in the past.
  • The lack of “home rule”.  Given the mentality that led to the creation of this Constitution, the government is heavily centralized at the state level, leaving virtually no power at the local level.  As a result, local governments very often have to work through the state legislature in regards to local issues.  One way this manifests itself is that local ordinances not only have to pass the local government commission/council, it has to then make its way through the state legislature and then literally has to be signed by the Governor.  The other way this manifests itself is through the passage of constitutional amendments.  Local issues will actually be placed onto the statewide ballot.  So there will actually be instances where the will of the people in a city/county will be overturned by the rest of the state who have no actual interest.  Why the heck should I as a Jefferson County citizen have any say in regards to a Shelby County (for instance) issue?  This is kind of the opposite of  “taxation without representation”.  While that is not good, “representation without taxation” is not really any better.
  • The ridiculous length of the document.  As a result of the above, the Alabama Constitution has a whopping 798 amendments and is the largest state constitution in the country.  And it is the largest by a landslide, it’s not even close.  (By word count, the Alabama Constitution has nearly 350,000 words.  The next closest state is not even at 100,000 words.)  A really cool thing, if you are mathematically inclined, is a plot of new Constitution amendments against years.  It shows the growth following the exponential curve as about as well as I have ever seen real (as opposed to textbook) data fit a curve.  The interesting thing is that based on the current trend, the Alabama Constitution will have over 1,000 amendments in just 10 more years.  You know, I can see that a state constitution would probably need to be larger than the national constitution.  Still though, if the United States Constitution can get by with just 27 amendments, you would think that a state could get by with much, much less than 1,000 amendments.  Of course, when 70% of your amendments pertain to either a single city or single county, that will tend to contribute to a large size.

An argument against a new constitution made by many of the state politicians is that special interest groups would heavily influence its creation.  While that is a valid concern, the one thing I have learned living in this state for a few short years is that special interest groups already own many of the state’s politicians.  So if state politicians are speaking out against the creation of a new constitution, it is likely that special interest groups must be happy with the status quo.  So to me, we are in a no-lose situation.  The worse case scenario is that special interests are as happy with the new constitution as they are with the current one.  At least if we rewrite a new constitution, we have a chance for improvement.

Currently, out of the current gubernatorial candidates for Alabama, only one supports a citizens convention to rewrite the Constitution, U.S. Representative Artur Davis.  So right now, he has my attention, if for no other reason that he actually has shown a sign that he is not owned by special interests.  I will have to learn more about him before throwing my full support behind him, but this will go a long way.  I do believe there is no fixing the current document, and we need to start from scratch.  The sooner we start, the better off this state will be.

If you want to learn more, click the link below.  It has an excellent 45 minute documentary called It’s a Thick Book that covers the history of the Alabama Constitution and its flaws:

http://www.constitutionalreform.org/IATB.shtml

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Comments
  1. […] wrote about our need for a new constitution before.  Nobody listened to me then […]

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