Winter 2009 Edition
Published February 25, 2009
© 2009 League of Women Voters of Alabama
“Trust me.” Those words often engender the opposite reaction. Frequently they are used when the speaker will not disclose the reasons for whatever is being proposed or the details or the potential consequences. In recent years and months, our willingness to trust has been seriously eroded. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Wall Street, mortgage bankers, and government institutions and regulators did not have things under control. Highly publicized indictments and trials reveal what appears to be an epidemic of corruption.
At the same time, our leaders tell us that trust is essential to our recovery from what they also tell us is a terrible worldwide economic reality. President Obama and Governor Riley have both stressed that “the people’s trust in government” is a critical factor in our ability to deal with the present crisis and thrive in the future.
In Alabama the League has been fighting for more transparency and accountability, for election law and ethics reform for over half a century. Our current legislative priorities include passing a ban on PAC to PAC transfers and ethics reform. At this writing the House has already unanimously passed its bill to ban PAC to PAC transfers. We will be working to get a genuine ban on this deceptive practice passed by the Senate as well and signed into law. Several promising ethics bills have been filed and the Governor is proposing a comprehensive new Alabama Code of Public Ethics. See the article in this Voter outlining our positions on Ethics and check the website at www.lwval.org often for information regarding our support of specific bills and what you can to help.
While we fight to restore trust in government through better regulation, we must be careful not to further erode that trust by implying that we believe public servants in general are not to be trusted. As League members across the State and Country know from personal contact and experience, our legislatures, government offices, and public buildings from firehouses to schools are filled with men and women of integrity who work hard to serve the public interest, whether as elected officials or hourly workers.
As a nonpartisan volunteer organization, we can also attest that genuine cooperation across party lines is possible and good ideas can come from many sources. One thing we can all do daily to foster better government is to help create an atmosphere that allows politicians to work together for the common good without fearing retribution. Too often voters are told that any compromise, or cooperation with the “other side”, is a sign of weakness, corruption or ideological impurity. Be careful with your own speech. Challenge the extreme statements of others. Ask them to join the League and discover for themselves that nonpartisan efforts to support good government can be rewarding and effective.
A New Constitution
In 1915 an Alabama Governor recommended a constitutional convention because he believed 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.” This fact is included in A History of Attempts to Reform the 1901 Constitution prepared by the League and based in part on a 1976 paper written by Anne Findley-Shores. These documents and two other papers about efforts to change our constitution written by this talented Alabama League leader and crusader, whose memoriam is included in this Voter, are listed on our website. The History and two of the three Findley-Shores papers are posted there. These and other papers on the site, including Charlotte Ward’s paper on the best method for getting a new Constitution, make it clear for how long and why the League has pursued this cause. It also becomes clear why we strongly support current efforts to convene a constitutional convention. Note the call for your action in this Voter in the article by Nancy Ekberg, our Chair for Constitutional Reform.
When we feel that our trust has been betrayed, we can become suspicious about anything new. The familiar, even when it is as bad as the 1901 Constitution, feels safer. For the people to vote to hold a constitutional convention, the people must believe that such a process can work. And hearing “trust us” from the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (“ACCR”), of which we are a part, won’t be good enough. Recognizing the need to educate Alabama about this process as well as about the flaws in the current constitution, the ACCR Foundation is holding a mock convention, with sessions in February and April. Delegates have been given background materials to read and directed to a website with additional material which includes a link to our website and constitutional reform materials. LWVAL director and Voter editor, Charlotte Ward, serves on the ACCR Foundation board. If you have ideas about other ways the Foundation can build trust in the process, let Charlotte know.
See the Baldwin County League’s report below for an example of what local leagues can do to educate the public on this issue
Studies and Consensus
Congratulations to all six local leagues on their thorough and thoughtful study and consensus process on off site voting. The Board will be reviewing the local league reports and study committee evaluation and expects to complete its work on position statements on off site voting and initiative and referendum at its next meeting.
It is also important that local leagues participate in the LWVUS study and consensus process on the National Popular Vote Compact so that whatever consensus is reached or position taken will truly reflect the consensus of the members.
Convention and Council LWVUS has decided to hold a “virtual council” this year instead of meeting in Washington due to severe budget restraints. Local leagues may want to consider holding a meeting to participate by computer in this first ever virtual council to be held in early June. It is expected to last about four hours.
LWVAL will be holding its convention May 2-3. We waited to select a location in the hopes that one of the local leagues would be able to host this year. As no local league felt able to do that, the State Board is now making arrangements and details will be forthcoming shortly. At this point, we anticipate meeting in a central location. As in past years, the Convention will convene on Saturday morning and adjourn after a Sunday morning session and include business sessions, speakers and workshops. I look forward to seeing you there - wherever “there” is!
Mary Lynn Bates
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League of Women Voters of Alabama,
call 205 871-8194 or visit on-line at http://www.lwval.org.