Committed to Constitutional Reform, not necessarily “people’s convention.”

On Monday night, I spoke at the Clay County Farmer’s Federation. A member asked me about my position on Constitutional Reform. I explained that I strongly favor the adoption of a new constitution and stated the following:

First, we have the longest constitution in the world. It is twelve times the average length of other state constitutions. It is forty times the length of the United States Constitution.

Second, the document is wholly unworkable and unmanageable. With its 800 or so amendments, having represented and provided legal counsel to local governments for years, I know how difficult interpreting and applying the document is.

Third, a new constitution provides us an opportunity to break the concentration of power in Montgomery and decentralize the functions of government. I believe that most political power should reside in local towns and communities (“home rule”), not the salons and backrooms of Montgomery.  As Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens; and the same circumstance, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite public agents to corruption, plunder and waste.” –Thomas Jefferson to Gideon Granger, 1800. ME 10:167

Fourth, since the document was intended to prevent local control, Montgomery acts as a big, ineffective city council, handling mundane local issues. In addition, the entire state has to then vote on these matters. For example,

  • The 34th amendment allowed Limestone County to tax residents for “the control of malaria.
  • The 350th amendment allowed Anniston city government “to appropriate the sum of $35,000.00 from public funds on a one-time basis only to the East Alabama United Cerebral Palsy Center for the cost of its complex at the Jaycee park.
  • The 520th amendment declared “The Madison county commission is hereby authorized with or without charge to provide for the excavating of human graves.
  • The 123rd amendment allowed a local Cleburne County school tax.
  • Morgan County abolished the office of constable with the 368th amendment with the assistance of all other votes in the State.

That being said, I am not committed to a particular manner of adopting a new constitution. Many reformers advocate for a people’s convention for instance: House Joint Resolution 54. Other methods of amending the constitution exist and should be considered. For example, Florida employs a Commission with members appointed by various state office holders. (It convenes every twenty years.) I, personally, would prefer to see the county governments to have some influence in the appointment process. Nevertheless, being in favor of a new constitution, does not require me to favor or prefer a “people’s convention.” I am open to instruction and correction on the method; I am just convinced we need a new constitution.

At the event, Gerald Dial announced that he would qualify to run this Friday as a Republican.   During his “announcement speech,” he made an argument against constitutional reform that I have not heard and, to be frank, do not understand. He contended that “home rule” was a dangerous principle. For example he argued that, “if we had had home rule, Lowndes County would not have any white land-owners.”  I cannot follow this argument at all. If local government raised taxes, it would be on everyone, black and white. If they imposed a tax just on whites, the Fourteenth  Amendment to the United States Constitution would stand in the way. Accordingly, I believe this to be a mere scare tactic.

To quote Thomas Jefferson again:

“The way to have safe government is not to trust it all to the one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to everyone exactly the functions in which he is competent….It is by dividing and subdividing these Republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations until it ends in the administration of everyman’s farm by himself, by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.”


One response to “Committed to Constitutional Reform, not necessarily “people’s convention.”

  1. Bravo Mr. Varner! I’m with you on Constitution reform. And I can’t believe that Gerald Dial said something so stupid. Is there video of the event?

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