Constitution conundrum
The Birmingham News
Sunday, April 30, 2006

Alabama Legislative Session Update and where do we go from here?
What the Polls Say

Maybe it's wrong to believe there's a place for logic in the Legislature. But there must be some logical way to explain why voters in November won't be able to decide whether they want a citizens convention to write a new Alabama constitution.

Most lawmakers, remember, wanted no part in this year's legislative session of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given voters the choice. A new poll suggests those lawmakers ignored the will of the people - of both major political parties.

While most Republican lawmakers refused to let voters decide on a citizens convention, Republican voters by 53 to 39 percent favor calling for a convention to rewrite the state's archaic, racist, inefficient constitution. And most Democratic lawmakers fell in line with Republicans in turning down the bill, even though Democrats favor a convention 58 to 29 percent.

Those numbers come from two statewide telephone polls taken April 17-20 of two groups of 400 voters. One group of 400 said they would vote in the June 6 Republican primary, while the other 400 said they would vote in the Democratic primary. Larry Powell, professor of communication studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, directed the polls for The Birmingham News, FOX6 and WAFF-TV in Huntsville.

These sorts of numbers are nothing new. Last July, more than two-thirds of registered and likely Alabama voters said they would vote for a convention, according to a poll by the Capital Survey Research Center. So lawmakers can't claim to be ignorant about what voters want.

If lawmakers did what their constituents wanted, they would have voted for a bill that would have allowed voters to choose this November whether they wanted a citizens convention.

What happened, of course, is that too many lawmakers who were in a position to move the constitutional convention bill forward were more interested in kowtowing to powerful special-interest groups than they were in heeding their constituents. The bill never made it out of a House committee, with lobbyists from the Alabama Farmers Federation, in particular, working to ensure its defeat. In the Senate, a committee unanimously approved the bill, but some constitution reformers believe committee members did so knowing the bill was going nowhere in the Senate. And it didn't. Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, the powerful chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which sets the Senate agenda, refused to schedule the bill for a vote.

The message is clear: No matter what polls say, until lawmakers hear from constituents in large enough numbers to concern them, they will continue to answer to the interest groups that often double as their money men at campaign time.

This isn't to suggest lawmakers govern by polls. Instead, it's a suggestion they govern for their constituents, rather than be governed by powerful special interests.

« back