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Sunday, November 27, 2005
PoliColumn I: Wishes for Alabama
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:53 am

From today’s Mobile Register:

Listing holiday wishes for changes in Alabama’s goverment
Sunday, November 27, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

T his morning, we are in the waning hours of the Thanksgiving season. The turkey is mostly bones and the long weekend is winding down.

Still, it’s not too late to engage in some giving of thanks. In this case, I would like to think out loud about what I would like to some day have the chance to be thankful for.

Let’s start with something I am not thankful for: the constitution of the state of Alabama. It is a bloated, archaic, dysfunctional document that desperately needs to be replaced. It would fill my heart with thanks to have a new constitution — preferably one written by an elected convention of citizens of our state.

Other specific measures that would fill me with joy, and would cause thanksgiving across the state should they ever be enacted, are:

Home rule. Under the current state constitution, if a city or county wants to engage in self-governance, it often is blocked by the constitution. Permission has to be granted by the state Legislature.

Because the Legislature is busy, or a certain legislator may not support what the local government wants to do, such requests frequently are not approved.

As a result, democracy is thwarted and those closest to given issues aren’t allowed to enact public policies that they believe would be to their advantage.

Why should a city have to ask permission, like a child asking an adult, to engage in public policy for its citizens? Given the general opinion that we in the state tend to have of the Legislature, why are we content to allow legislators to make decisions that ought to be the domain of local governments?

A pro-growth constitution.
The current constitution forbids the government from directly engaging in activities that would promote business in Alabama. This is why we get silly-sounding constitutional amendments about promoting goat and sheep farmers (the 715th amendment) or the shrimp and seafood industry (the 766th amendment).

It would be really nice if our state government was able to promote the economy of our state without asking special permission per industry.

Certainly, it is hard to defend a constitution that has the words “goats,” “sheep” and “shrimp” in it. They are all fine creatures, of course, but when it comes to constitutions, detailing the domain of livestock isn’t exactly the stuff of James Madison.

As a side note, the fact that I just mentioned the 715th and 766th amendments ought to be a huge red flag that something is wrong with our constitution. What kind of documents needs that many additions in 104 years? Such numbers lead to my next wish.

Shorter ballots.
It would be nice if the list of proposed constitutional amendments that is given to the voters on a regular basis were shorter than my leg.

And while I may be exaggerating some, I would say that I am not overstating my case by much. The constitution of our state was promulgated in 1901 and we have amended it now 772 times. That’s an average of 7.4 amendments a year.

The need for that many changes bespeaks of a deeply flawed constitution. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution has been amended all of 27 times since 1789.

A framework.
A constitution is supposed to be a framework for government. The Alabama state constitution, however, is far more than that. It functions like a law book — i.e., a set of what should be statutes.

A constitution should establish the basis of the state government, and then allow the Legislature, as the elected representatives of the people, to then make the laws.

The greatest constitution ever written is that of the United States of America, and it is essentially a pamphlet. The Alabama Constitution is a tome that, in a pinch, you could use to crack the pecans for the holiday pie.

Anyone who would like to compare the two can go to the Internet and find the U.S. Constitution at www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html. The Alabama Constitution of 1901 can be viewed at www.legislature.state.al.us/CodeOfAlabama/Constitution/1901/Constitution1901)toc.htm.

Just a casual look through the two documents should underscore the radical differences between them.

A constitution that isn’t embarrassing. Forget the length issue; the fact of the matter is, our constitution should be considered an embarrassment to the state.

It still contains segregation-era language (such as the statement that blacks and whites should not attend the same schools), which is to the shame of the state. It is bad enough that such clauses were written in the first place, and doubly so that we have been too complacent to remove them.

I could go on, but will leave it there for now. I could sum up my wishes by saying that I would like to see a constitution for our state that facilitates good government and democracy, rather than hindering it and one that we could all be proud of. Hopefully, in my lifetime I will have the chance to write a Thanksgiving column that allows me to state my gratitude for constitutional change, rather than simply penning a piece that consists of wishful thinking.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | |Send TrackBack

3 Comments »

  1. 700+ amendments in 100 years is probably too many. On the other hand, 27 in 200+ years is almost certainly too few. Somewhere between the hyper-flexibility of Alabama and the hyper-rigidity of the US, there must be a nice Goldilocks solution.

    Comment by Matthew — Sunday, November 27, 2005 @ 10:18 am

  2. Yup.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, November 27, 2005 @ 3:33 pm

  3. To your wish list I would have added my objective: for Alabama to become the 25th state where voters have a constitutional right to a viable Initiative and Referendum process. With that in hand, a majority of voters in the state could make all the changes you wish for, even if the legislature continues to refuse to. My website at www.doctoriq.com is devoted to that end.

    Comment by Don Seibold — Monday, November 28, 2005 @ 4:05 pm

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