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The Alabama Voter
Summer 2009 Edition

Published September 13, 2009

2009 League of Women Voters of Alabama

Report from the Mock Convention

Mock Convention 2009 jpg

As Leaguers know, Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform’s Foundation sponsored a Mock Convention this year, bringing delegates from 105 legislative districts together to write a new Alabama constitution.  They did a remarkable job.  Some from the League, including immediate past State League President, Mary Lynn Bates, were delegates.   Other League members who are also very active as ACCR volunteers, including LWVAL’s Chair for Constitutional Reform Nancy Ekberg, were key organizers of the project, doing everything from planning delegates’ meals to recruiting other volunteers.  Still others served on delegate selection committees.

Throughout the Convention gathering in Prattville in February of this year, several months of online and telephone conversations between article study groups, a second gathering in Montgomery in April and then a period of solicited commentary from the public, these dedicated, altruistic volunteers created a document that is a great improvement over our existing 1901 Alabama Constitution.  A documentary of the Convention has been made and will be posted on the ACCR website.

LWVAL participated in the public comment phase of the Mock Convention by submitting comments in a letter to the ACCR Foundation.  In addition, some League Board members posted comments on the draft on the designated public blog.  [See below for the LWVAL comments.]

The new Constitution was unveiled to the public on Thursday, August 27th, at Constitution Hall in Huntsville, where the State’s first governing document was written in 1819.  It is now available online at www.constitutionalreform.org.

At that same website, you can read the current ACCR VOICE newsletter telling about the document as well as the Bailey Thomson Award Luncheon that followed the unveiling. The late Bailey Thomson was the Professor of Journalism at the University of Alabama and founder of ACCR.  That luncheon was held at the Von Braun Civic Center in Huntsville and featured Rick Bragg as keynote speaker.  The Bailey Thomson Award was presented to former Governor Albert Brewer, member of the first Board of Directors of ACCR, and retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Gorman Houston.  Brewer and Houston were deans and advisors to the Mock Convention delegates.

At the press conference unveiling at Constitution Hall several delegates shared their experience of the Mock Constitutional Convention. Mary Lynn Bates was one of those delegates and her observations are printed below.

"The delegates who wrote the 1901 Constitution (that continues to govern our State) were apparently motivated by fear, distrust, greed and a need to control.

In stark contrast, the spirit of the Mock Constitutional Convention was one of courage, hope, altruism and trust. 

Delegates were united in the passionate belief that Alabama needs a new constitution to move forward.  The deeply flawed 1901 Constitution has been successful in only one respect:  in setting up a governing structure that has made it extremely difficult to change that structure, a structure that concentrates power and impedes change.

Despite agreement on the need for a new constitution, Delegates were very diverse, not only in terms of age, race, gender, education, occupation and geography, but also in their political and social views.  We had conservatives, liberals and moderates, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

What was truly wonderful was the willingness of delegates to LISTEN, to RECONSIDER the views they came with, to COMPROMISE and to VOTE for a much less than perfect document but one that is a framework constitution that would let Alabamians more effectively and efficiently govern themselves.  Delegates voted to approve a document that did not specifically address all of their individual issues and that was not necessarily one they would ultimately choose, in order to demonstrate that the process can work.  We were willing to let the debate about specific divisive substantive issues take place in the electoral process and in the legislature in order to put a fairer and more effective governing framework in place….one that would give Alabama the ability to respond to rapid and inevitable change.

The 1901 Constitution tried and failed to stop change.  It succeeded only in making it hard for Alabama to prosper in a changing world.  In 1915, an Alabama Governor recommended a constitutional convention because he believed that the defects in the 1901 Constitution were 'so numerous and radical, and so intermingled in the different sections that trying to fix the document through amendment would be practically impossible.'  Over 800 amendments later, we delegates are inclined to agree."

-- Mary Lynn Bates and Nancy Ekberg
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