ACCR to rally Jan. 25
January 21, 2006
Sarah Thomson

"Let the People Vote" Rally.
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Jan. 21 | Despite losing its leader two years ago, Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform activists are optimistic about the movement's future.

Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform began as a small public interest group in 2000, founded by Dr. Bailey Thomson, former professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. According to its Web site,, the group grew out of a rally in Tuscaloosa as part of a "grass roots movement for civic renewal and constitutional renewal." ACCR continued to gain members statewide, and with Thomson's leadership, the idea of a new state constitution for Alabama seemed feasible within the near future.

On Nov. 26, 2003, the constitutional reform movement took a severe blow when Thomson suffered a fatal heart attack at his home. Faced with the new challenge of acting without a leader, ACCR took action.

Elizabeth Hendrix, a doctoral candidate in instructional leadership from Northport, is an active board member of ACCR.

"Bailey was the catalyst for this movement. We lost our leader and a part of our core," she said.

However, Hendrix is undaunted by the task of building a new constitution. A quiet woman, her passion for reform rings clear in her steady voice. She says that ACCR is already gearing up for a rally in January and has many plans for 2006.

"We're meeting in Montgomery at the capitol steps to present over 60,000 signatures to the Legislature on Jan. 25. On that day the students will be reading part of the constitution. It's a statewide effort," she said.

"There will be a public hearing on House Bill 109, which basically calls for letting the people of Alabama vote on whether they want a new constitution or not. The legislators have to approve something like this bill to let us vote as a state on whether or not we want a new constitution. Ted Little and Speaker of the House Newton are supporting this bill. They had a press conference in Montgomery two weeks ago about it," Hendrix explained.

"We're also working on forming a constitutional reform coalition. We're trying to build a coalition statewide with various group members. So far we have over 30 groups involved. That will help us with our educational outreach and help us unite and come together. I think we've started a movement, and a movement takes many years for it to take root. The Civil Rights movement didn't happen overnight," she said. "I still think we have a long way to go."

Matthew Lewis, a sophomore majoring in political science and history at the University and a native of Prattville, will take part in the Let the People Vote rally on Jan. 25. He is positive about the future of constitutional reform.

"We're holding more petition drives and going out in the community and educating the people," he said.

He plans on visiting local groups in Alabama to spread the world about the need for a new constitution.

"It's really generating interest among people," Lewis said. "We want people to realize there is a problem."

Lenora Pate, an attorney at Siroty and Permitt law firm in Birmingham, is the co-chair for ACCR.

"ACCR for the last 15 months has been focused on moving from the education stage to the action stage. All of 2005 was focused on putting ACCR's concerns into action. We're working with legislature and legal scholars to build a constitutional convention," she said. "We desperately need to move into the 21st century."

Susan Pace Hamill is a law professor at the University and an outspoken advocate for a new constitution. She agrees with Pate about the need for a constitutional convention.

"The way it has to start is with a successful bill in the legislation. This bill is on whether or not we have a convention. If the bill is successful, then the movement will get very excited for a while because there will be this effort to convince voters to vote and say, 'Yes, we want a constitutional convention,'" she said.

Hamill sits at a desk piled high with law books, and she is considered one of the most knowledgeable sources of tax law and the Alabama Constitution. She speaks frankly on the challenges ACCR faces everyday.

"It's an uphill struggle because the people who like the constitution the way it is have clout in the Legislature. But shouldn't the people get to decide whether or not we have a convention? Why should the Legislature be able to block the new constitution? It's because the 1901 constitution had an amendment that the Legislature had to first approve the bill to allow such a convention. That's why a citizen's group can't call for a convention to get a constitution on the ballot. It's one of the many devices to concentrate power in the Legislature in Montgomery," she said. "The reformers have got to keep developing strategies to get into the communities. That's hard work. I think the ACCR movement has to focus on developing speakers."

One such speaker that has come out is Kristi Thomson, wife of the late Bailey Thomson. Mrs. Thomson is a sixth grade teacher at Brookwood Middle School and since her husband's death has come forward to educate the public on the need for constitutional reform.

"I believe in the movement for constitutional reform and my husband Bailey had set the foundation for the movement. It was from his example I believed I could offer a message to my community. I learned that message by reading books and articles written by Bailey, Wayne Flynt, Hardy Jackson, Susan Hamill and other newspaper articles. I'm not the expert that Bailey was, but I certainly understand it well enough to teach it to other citizens," she said.

Thomson believes it is important for Alabamians to understand exactly how the state constitution works.

"As a social studies teacher, I teach my students to be informed voters, so I think educating the public is part of the plan that our citizens be informed. You can't vote responsibly unless you understand the issue. Note, responsibly is the key word."

Dr. E. Culpepper Clark, dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University, is confident for the future of Alabama.

"Sometimes you don't get what you want," he said, "but the great value is in the struggle. I don't think the prospects are better than they have been. I think there is hope. You keep pushing and all of a sudden it will happen. This could be the year."

(Editor's Note: Sarah Thomson is the daughter of Kristi Thomson, a teacher at Brookwood High School, and the late Dr. H. Bailey Thomson. She is a senior majoring in theater at the University and plans to study journalism in graduate school next year. Her e-mail address is

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