Stewart has deep roots in constitutional reform efforts
Crimson White, March 21, 2003
By Mary Louise Mason, metro/state editor
Efforts to reform Alabama's 1901 constitution are not new to University political science professor emeritus Bill Stewart, who began participating in the constitutional reform movement during Gov. Albert Brewer's administration in the late 1960s.
Stewart is an appointed member of the Alabama Citizens' Constitutional Commission that Gov. Bob Riley created with his first executive order in January. Stewart said Riley's emphasis on constitutional reform in his first executive order illustrates how important the issue is for Alabama.
Stewart said the 1901 constitution was conceived in an ignoble purpose of keeping black people in a state of subjection.
"It doesn't have that effect today, but it is holding Alabama back from being a modern progressive state and matching up to other states that have a higher quality of life than Alabamians do," he said.
Stewart said the Alabama Constitution is more a document of prohibition than a document of permission. He also said the document is comprised on "thou shalt not" rather than "you may."
As a political scientist, Stewart is oriented toward the power and politics of the Alabama government. He has published many books and articles on the Alabama Constitution and has read the entire Alabama Constitution, including all of its more than 700 amendments.
"Unfortunately, you wouldn't want to read [the constitution] and see if it is based on citizen rights and the fundamental structure of government," Stewart said.
Stewart said the constitution should be rewritten without the minute details concerning local amendments and specific tax structure. He said the constitution should be a document that provides for basic government structure but allows the state legislature to fill in the details as needed.
One of the reasons Stewart said he supports constitutional reform is because he hopes it will improve the state and make it a better place for his descendants.
"As a citizen, I would like a good quality state for my son to live in," Stewart said.
Stewart said he would like a new provision to grant local governments control of local issues. One example is Tuscaloosa's request to vote on Sunday alcohol sales. Stewart said Tuscaloosa's residents should not have to ask the state Legislature for the right to vote on the issue.
Tax reform is another issue Stewart would like a new constitution to address. He said the constitution should include provisions for a fairer tax system and provide for better education.
A Morgan County native, Stewart said he has heard about the Alabama constitution all of his life. As a child, Stewart went to a political rally with his father. The rally was in a rural area of the county, and Stewart observed firsthand the "old way of Alabama politics close up."
Stewart's father was a local campaign manager in Morgan County for George Wallace's 1958 gubernatorial campaign against John Patterson.
"[My father] was fond of Wallace when he was a liberal progressive, but not when he adopted racist strategies in order to win the governorship," Stewart said.
Stewart said he is glad he did not have to overcome a legacy of racism as an adult because his parents did not teach him racist ideals. He said his father was a primary role model in his life that instilled his interest in government.
As a University political science professor, Stewart said his main interest in constitutional reform was inspired in the 1970s by Coleman Ransone, a late University political science professor.
Stewart said Ransone's commitment and dedication to Brewer's constitutional reform efforts were infectious. Stewart and Ransone discussed Brewer's efforts daily. Ransone helped Stewart become involved in the reform efforts, and Stewart served as a technical adviser for Brewer's reform commission. But those reform efforts halted after Wallace was elected for his second term as Alabama governor in 1970.
Stewart said the people who are serving on Riley's reform commission are making progress in their conferences and meetings. He said he is encouraged to see people willing to give up so much time and energy to serve on the commission without any personal benefits.
The committee held its last public meeting earlier this month. Stewart said the committee's final report to the governor is complete and will be released March 28.