For several years now members of the Alabama House and Senate have dodged the opportunity to allow Alabamians to decide for ourselves whether or not to rewrite our governing document by holding a constitutional convention. But this year there seems to be real momentum. This year it may happen.
The House and the Senate have resolutions before them calling for a vote from the people on whether or not to hold a constitutional convention. State Sen. Ted Little introduced Senate Joint Resolution 20, and State Rep. Demetrius Newton introduced House Joint Resolution 91.
The details are the same as the bills put forward last year. The resolutions call for three votes from the people of Alabama. The first will say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a convention. If the people vote yes, the second vote will be to elect two convention delegates from each House district. The third vote will approve or reject the rewritten constitution.
The resolution anticipates the usual litany of criticisms. There are strict limits in both resolutions on lobbying access and campaign contributions.
There is already wide support for the measure. There are 26 co-signers in the House and 15 in the Senate. This is more support than there has ever been for this effort.
The downside to the joint resolution as opposed to a traditional bill is that the effort, if adopted, is basically not funded. But that is not an insurmountable problem. The initial yes or no vote can be added to the June 2010 primary at virtually no cost. The selection of delegates will take place as part of the following November general election, again at virtually no additional cost.
If the people of Alabama vote to hold a convention, and then elect delegates to meet and rewrite the constitution, it’s hard to imagine that the legislature would not fund the actual convention at that point. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that the cost of a constitutional convention would be just under $4 million. A small price to pay to finally drag Alabama out of the 19th century.
We have for too long limped along with our inadequate and grossly inefficient state document. It hinders local government, it hinders our schools, and it stands as a glaring reminder of our shameful racist past. It’s time, and past time, to put this albatross in a museum and put in its place a system of government that actually works.
And please, keep your fear mongering to yourself. Those who believe that a new constitution will open the flood gates for gambling while at the same time shut the door on God are the same people who think a black cat and a broken mirror can affect the future.
It’s time for the grown-ups to step forward and place a calm hand on our state government. It’s time to prune back the power of special interests now protected by the labyrinth we call a constitution. It’s time to take seriously the moral obligation we have to adequately fund schools, particularly in rural areas.
And for those of you living in Alabama, if it turns out that yours is one of the representatives already supporting this resolution, then call them and praise them for their courage and their foresight. Tell them you appreciate the fact that they trust us, the voters, enough to let us decide for ourselves whether or not to hold a constitutional convention.
And if your legislator is not supporting the measure, call them and say, “Let people vote!”
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.