New group seeks impact on
wide range of issues: Sprawl, constitutional reform among
By Brendan Kirby
January 6, 2003
FAIRHOPE -- After
talking politics for most of the last year, a group of Baldwin
citizens has decided to supplement its words with actions.
organization, Citizens for Responsible Government, aims to influence
state and national policy on taxes, spending, growth, election
reform and other issues. Edward Lawrence, who owns a small
consulting firm in Fairhope, said the political discussion club he
formed in February found it had reached consensus on a number of
"We thought maybe instead of just talking about these
things, maybe we should start being a little more activist," he
Lawrence said the group has between 15 and 20 members at this
time from across the political spectrum -- from Republicans and
Democrats to Greens and Libertarians. He said the organization
encour ages new members.
Lawrence said the group has reached broad
consensus on a half-dozen issues that it plans to tackle. They
Establishing a fair tax system at both the state and
federal levels, with as few loopholes as possible.
constitutional con vention to rewrite the century-old governing
Reducing wasteful "pork-barrel spending."
system of public financing for political campaigns.
election system known as instant runoff voting in which voters would
rank all of the candidates for office by order of preference.
Advocating "smart growth" policies to protect the environment and
limit suburban sprawl.
Members of the group said they plan to write
letters to the editor and sponsor issue forums on various issues to
educate the public and attempt to build ground-level support for
their ideas. They have a Web site at www.responsiblegov.net and said
they want to sound out elected leaders.
Fairhope resident Harvey
Joanning, who was elected the group's president, said he is unsure
whether the group will endorse candidates. Joanning, who has lobbied
legislatures in Texas and Iowa, described the organization as part
think tank, part lobbyist.
"We're trying to do some of what a
lobbyist would do without a partisan or financial agenda," he said.
The Web site contains position papers written by members of the
group and links to Web sites of other reform groups. Lawrence, 60,
said group members want to work with other organizations.
not going to try to do what other groups are doing. But what we can
do is assist these groups," he said.
Some of the club's goals, such
as constitutional reform, are firmly on the agenda of reform
organizations. Others, such as public financing of campaigns, have
barely made a blip in Alabama. But they all welcomed whatever extra
support they can get.
Kathryn Bowden, the executive director of
Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said a dogged public
education campaign over the last few years has convinced most people
that the constitution robs local governments of meaning ful
decision-making authorities and hamstrings other reform measures.
She said she is glad to hear the Baldwin group has made changing the
constitution a priority.
"I'm not surprised. I think we've done a
good job getting our message out on the need for reform. Now, the
debate is how we get there," she said. "Three years ago, nobody was
talking about it. Now, everybody's talking about it."
Responsible Government hopes to change the tenor of Alabama
elections through the use of instant runoff voting. Under the
system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. In a race in
which no candidate gets a majority, the last-place choice is removed
and his supporters' second choices are redistributed. The process
continues until a candidate gets more than 50 percent.
contend such a system would save Alabama from having an extra runoff
round of voting, which costs money and usually experiences lower
turnout. And, he added, it would discourage negative campaigning
since candidates would be competing to be the second choice of their
Edward Still, a Birmingham lawyer and
board member of the Takoma Park, Md.-based Center for Voting and
Democracy, said Alabama used a variation of the system in the early
20th century. It was nowhere to be found on a list of election
reforms proposed by Secretary of State Jim Bennett, and Still
suggested the effort probably would have to be launched from the
"It hasn't been on the radar screen. We haven't gotten
anybody else talking about it," he said. "When you got a bunch of
leaky pipes, you don't think about adding on to the house."
Joanning, 55, said he taught psychology at the University of Iowa
before retiring in Fairhope. He said his counseling will be helpful
in mediating conflicting opinions and building consensus.
trying very hard to make sure all views are heard," he said. "I know
how to get disparate groups talking to one another without
Lawrence his group provides a place for folks who want
an outlet for their political opinions.
"So much of the time, in a
social setting, politics is an issue people want to avoid," he said.