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The amendment was a part of Riley’s push to modernize the state constitution, a sprawling, racist document dating to 1901 that codified Jim Crow and created a strong state central government.“Federal and state court rulings have struck down a lot of these [clauses] as unconstitutional, but it was viewed by many as a black eye for the state,” Toby Roth, who served as Riley’s chief of staff during the constitutional fights, told TPM.
In 2004, a bipartisan coalition of Alabama leaders moved to eliminate sections of the state constitution mandating school segregation and poll taxes.
They assumed it’d be an easy feat — until Roy Moore got involved. Bob Riley (R) worked together on an amendment to remove language in the state constitution mandating “separate schools for white and colored children” and allowing poll taxes, Jim Crow-era requirements that people to pay to vote that disenfranchised most black people.
The changes were purely symbolic — all of the state constitutional language had already been struck down by state and federal courts — but civil rights and business leaders saw it as a way to heal old wounds and make the state more attractive to big business.
The opposite happened instead, and Moore’s fierce opposition likely made the difference.“He had a huge impact.
It was a measure that was set to pass without much opposition and then because he got involved it changed the dynamic completely,” said Susan Kennedy of the Alabama Education Association, the state public teachers’ lobby that supported the amendment.
At the time, Moore, who is currently the GOP nominee and the front-runner to become Alabama’s next U. senator, had recently been booted from the state supreme court for defying higher court orders to remove a Ten Commandments statue from in front of his courthouse.
The battle over the amendment came just a year after the Christian Coalition had helped defeat a Riley-backed push to increase state taxes to invest more on education and infrastructure.
The ongoing tax fights had made many conservatives wary of any constitutional changes, with a faction that simply opposed any tweaks.“You do have a more conservative wing of the Republican Party that’s always suspicious of any constitution changes as a backdoor attempt to raise taxes,” Roth said. Moore told the Associated Press that the amendment was “another attempt to open the door for a court-ordered tax increase without the consent of the people” after they’d defeated the earlier amendment, while Parker ran radio ads saying that it would create “a new right to education for citizens of all ages” and warning “liberals will use this to pressure judges into raising your taxes.”Parker won by a narrow margin even though he was heavily outspent in the race.
”Many voters’ opposition to more school funding was and is ideological and financial, not purely racially driven.
But civil rights groups argue that the effect is the same.“When you talk about not guaranteeing or taking away the language from the not guaranteeing the right to a public education, that’s racist,” Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele Jr., a former Alabama state senator, told NPR at the time.
Every subsequent attempt to remove the language since that initial failure has failed, most recently in 2012.