New ASCR chairman wants his group to be more active
Crimson White, April 23, 2004
By Erica Stratton, staff reporter
The Alabama Constitution is the longest constitution in the United States. Adopted in 1901, it contains 287 sections. More than a century and 742 amendments later, the document has become the focus of a heated constitutional reform debate.
Taylor Nichols, newly elected president of Alabama Students for Constitutional Reform, plans to revamp the organization into a more informative, active organization that he hopes will raise more awareness about the issue.
The constitution has been the source of controversy because it is seen as a document left over from Alabama's racist past and also because of its extensive length. According to proponents of the reform movement, the constitution inhibits legislators from enacting a more efficient tax system and is the cause of many of Alabama's governmental problems.
ASCR hopes to become a more visible and informative organization during the next school year. After years of strong membership numbers, the organization has dwindled in members, to the point that it is down to six. ASCR is such a small group because of poor publicity efforts, Nichols said.
Part of the reason ASCR is not as visible as Nichols would like is because its statewide affiliate organization, Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, has toned down its actions since the Sept. 9 defeat of Gov. Bob Riley's tax plan.
The state organization also suffered a significant setback with the November death of journalism professor Bailey Thomson, the organization's founder and the foremost leader of the state movement for reform.
"We don't want people to associate tax reform with constitutional reform," Nichols said.
Both organizations seem worried that if Alabamians begin to make that connection, the fight for a new constitution would be harmed.
Another setback ASCR faces is the overwhelming distrust in the state government openly expressed by Alabamians.
"So few people trust the state government, and they're afraid things will get worse if a new constitution is written," Nichols said, "and the legislature is already overcome with special interest groups. If a legislator tries to propose a new constitution, his constituents with the most money will pull their funds if he does not agree to represent their special interests in the new constitution."
Despite these and other setbacks, Nichols is planning new tactics for the little-known organization. The new efforts include an online forum for students and other Alabamians to freely discuss the issue and a re-launch of ASCR's Web site, which has not been updated in a few years.
"I would also like to invite guest speakers, especially former Gov. Don Siegelman, to speak at meetings," Nichols said. "Siegelman is very knowledgeable about the problems with our current constitution."
He also expressed his hope to sponsor these and possibly other events with student organizations such as the College Democrats, College Republicans, Capstone Men and Women and any other group who expresses interest.
Nichols' largest endeavor that he would like to take on is forming a statewide organization that would encompass all of the students in constitutional reform groups statewide. This move would allow for better communication between chapters and the ACCR, which would hopefully lead to more opportunities to raise awareness among the residents of Alabama.
Unlike many UA student groups, ASCR may not be taking the summer off, if Nichols can help it. He would like to set up a booth or table in the Ferguson Center during summer orientation for incoming UA freshmen.
"If you can get [freshmen] interested and aware as soon as possible, there is a greater chance that they will get in and stay in the organization for as long as they're at the University," Nichols said.
The constitutional reform movement is an issue that crosses partisan lines, and with its widespread appeal to Alabamians of all political ideologies more people would probably become involved if they knew the particulars of the issue, Nichols said.