Journalist and educator Bailey Thomas (1949-2003) founded the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR) in 2000 with the help of others, including lawyer Tom Carruthers, Sid McAnnally, the Honorable Jack Edwards, Dr. Thomas Corts, Gov. Albert Brewer , Brunson White, Odessa Woolfolk, Judge Gorman Houston, Professor Wayne Flynt, Odessa Woolfolk and others.
His efforts along with those of Gov. Albert Brewer and with the help of the late Dr. Thomas Corts, President of Samford University, resulted in a movement for reform that began in Tuscaloosa with a rally attended by hundreds.
The first board consisted of Dr. Thomas Corts, the Honorable Jack Edwards, Sid McAnnally and Odessa Woolfolk. The first president was Dr. Corts, followed by Bailey Thomson. Sid McAnnally became the third president and in 2005 stepped down and asked Lenora Pate to succeed him.
ACCR Foundation, the 501 (c) 3 education organization was incorporated 18 September 2000. ACCR, INC., the 501 (c) 4 advocacy organization was incorporated 13 February 2001. They were operated as one agency with one board until 2003 when they were separated with separate boards
In 2001, ACCR had an office in Montgomery. Kathy Bowden became Executive Director and served until 2003. It was largely funded by businesses including Business Council of Alabama and money recruited by Brunson White.
Anne Kilgrow, David Perry and Kevin Garrison worked with Kathy in Montomery Anne was Executive Assistant, David and Kevin were outstanding grassroots workers. Bill Smith did Public Relations and Media as an independent contractor. Four statewide conferences were held in 2001, and 2002 in Huntsville, Birmingham, Mobile and Auburn.
Many in ACCR stopped working for ACCR in 2003 and switched over to help get Governor Riley’s tax overhaul called Amendment One passed. Funding for ACCR began to dwindle as corporate donors including the BCA, shifted their contributions to the Amendment One campaign. At this point, ACCR could no longer afford to operate a full time office and Kathy shut down the Montgomery office. She moved all files to Birmingham into the hands of Brunson White, at Energen in Birmingham. Brunson chose Sandra Behel, his assistant, to manage ACCR affairs.
One of the things Governor Riley did, in 3003, was to set up Alabama Citizen’s Commission on Constitutional Reform to study parts of the Constitution with a goal toward reform. The Commission studied recompilation, limited home rule, excessive earmarking, line item veto and a higher vote threshold for tax increases. Very limited Home Rule and Recompilation were the only items approved by the Legislature and passed by voters. It was created by legislation and not a constitutional amendment so it did not rise to the level of actually legally changing the Constitution. Legislative Services Agency in 2005 published the results in the Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901 with Amendments.
The untimely death of founder Bailey Thomson, (Pulitzer Prize winner, who taught journalism at the University of Alabama) in 2003, deeply hurt the movement. But Huntsville volunteers gave the organization a shot in the arm by starting a movement in 2004 to get signatures on a petition to allow a constitutional convention.
Because the 1901 Constitution does not allow initiative, the petition had no legal authority. Bit it had considerable public significance. Members gathered 70,000 signatures and presented them to the Legislature at a rally on the steps of the Capitol in 2005.
In the beginning, we all worked for reform, but in 2005, we started working for a citizens’ convention.
In 2004, ACCR Ind. began using a lobbyist, Cary Page, who volunteered and attended all sessions during the Legislative Session. When she stepped down, Nancy Ekberg took her place.
Throughout our effort, Gerald Johnson, who was with AEA, conducted polls which always showed that a majority of citizens would vote in favor of holding a constitutional convention if given the chance.
Throughout the years, Greater Birmingham Ministries had been a leader and key player in education and support for our advocacy.
ACCR Inc. has held rallies on the steps of the Capitol most years. Some were organized by the ACCR College Council, some by ACCR Inc. and some by Greater Birmingham Ministries.
During all the years since it was incorporated, we in ACCR Inc. have gone through the state speaking to groups, schools, community and civic organizations and churches on the need for a new constitution. We held forums in Birmingham and Huntsville inviting the public to come and let their voices be heard.
Beginning in 2005, ACR Inc. began working with then Senator Ted Little and Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton of the House to sponsor legislation to allow a convention. Each year the number of co-sponsors increased.
The closest we came to success was in 2008 with HB308 and SB3243. However the legislation failed either on the floor of the House or by never getting from the Rules Committee to the floor of the Senate.
ACCR In. has been the advocacy group, working with the public, the legislature and the media. The Foundation focuses on education and was reactivated in 2006 with Mark Berte leading its educational activities. Both remained separate entities with separate boards. The Foundation was funded by the Babcock Wilcox Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. ACCR Inc. was funded by member dues. Under the leadership of Mark Berte, the Foundation held a Mock Convention beginning in 2008. It was presented to the public at Constitution Hall in Huntsville in 2009. Mark also created a student essay contest and the Bailey Thomson Award luncheon. During the Mock Convention, 105 citizens from throughout the state wrote a new constitution. It was a good one but never became law because it was not done through a constitutional amendment as a constitutional convention.
In 2018, the Foundation and ACCR Inc. again merged into one group under the leadership of Lenora Pate.
Some reform has been successful. In 2012, the Banking Article and the Corporation Article were reformed. In 2016 as a result of a Constitutional Revision Commission established by Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard in 2011, four amendments passed. The Commission was chaired by former Governor Albert Brewer, and successfully brought Limited Home Rule, a revision to the names of the three forms of government, clarification that the superintendent of education could not be impeached because he or she was appointed not elected and a revision of what it would take to fore a local amendment to a statewide vote
In 2019 ACCR together with the Legislative Services Agency, was successful in getting the Legislature and the voters to pass a chance to recompile the Constitution through an amendment in 2020. In 2022, that job was completed and passed by the Legislature to become the Constitution of 2022. It will appear on ballots in November of 2022.