Thursday, May 21, 2009

L.A. Times Editorial: California Needs a State Constitutional Convention

It is a pity that Peter Miguel Camejo did not live to see this. Every major newspaper in the state now agrees that the Green Party candidate for governor's warnings about a "dysfunctional, money-dominated, winner-take-all system" of so-called conservative Republicans and so-called liberal Democrats were prophetic.

Two days after the special election, the lead editorial in The Los Angeles Times calls for a state constitutional convention:

Published in the Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2009.
Editorial: California Needs a State Constitutional Convention

California is stuck. Schools are about to lay off teachers. Prisons are about to release inmates. Historic assets are on the block. Initiatives confuse. Revolts fail. No amount of electing and reelecting people who promise to fix things seems able to move us forward. It's time to reboot.

There have been calls for months now to convene a state constitutional convention and, in essence, start over. It's a good idea. . .

. . .The state Constitution runs to two fat volumes in print and is padded each year by new voter initiatives or legislative propositions. In the end, it's just a document. It's not the enemy. But retooling is one necessary step to make the state function better.

Of course, all kinds of things can go wrong. How would delegates be picked? Would unions control a convention, or union-busters, or Proposition 8 advocates or opponents? A poorly structured convention or one populated by self-interested fringe delegates could do more harm than good. Every care must be given to the details, and it is essential to include in the initiative that authorizes a convention -- alas, there must be a ballot measure -- restrictions on what it would be allowed to address.

One benefit: A convention could push the Legislature to accept deeper, more far-reaching reforms than it might otherwise. One provocative notion being floated by the reform group California Forward would devolve decision-making on taxing and spending back to counties and cities, realigning the relationship between state and local government. In another year, lawmakers might scoff at the prospect. Fear of a convention may encourage ingenuity.

The Bay Area Council, which is leading the charge for a convention, has put "proportional representation" in the Legislature at the top of its wish list. Interesting choice. We're curious to see whether voters already angry at Tuesday's barely comprehensible ballot measures will embrace something quite so cutting-edge.

No convention -- in fact, no statewide fix -- will work if it consists simply of one interest group's shopping list. The Times has made no secret of its position against the two-thirds legislative threshold for tax increases and budgets, and we will keep pushing to overturn it. But the point is to get more ideas on the table.

Prepare for the season of reform and reinvention. A tax reform commission is to release its report in July. Political parties and candidates will focus on next year's gubernatorial election. It's not time to back away from government; it's time to engage it, and change it. Over the coming weeks and months, this page will not be shy about asking questions and offering suggestions. Bring on the ideas. Bring on the convention.


Philip H. said...

I feel for you and all other Californians who have tried to do the right thing over the years. Your elected officials are not serving the public good anymore, and as such, no longer deserve your support. Hopefully, the next round of state elections will reflect the real response to this disaster.

Since so many folks look to CA as a bellweather for national trends, what do you think this says about the state of national politics to come?

Unknown said...

This sounds like a great opportunity to raise awareness of much-needed electoral reforms. Proportional representation for legislature, instant runoff voting for single-winner elections, and clean public financing for all campaigns would do a lot to fix up CA's broken system.

Also, as Philip wrote, adoption of such reforms in California could spread to the rest of the nation. Please keep us posted on any developments with the constitutional convention.

Wes said...

While it may be of importance to Greens and other smaller parties, the general public does not give a rat's ___ about such electoral reforms unless they are framed as cost saving measures. Every conversation on this subject that I have had with those registered as Decline to State (Independents as they are called elsewhere) ends up with a shrug. The response is sort of "if you want me to vote Green, give me a good reason to do so."

Wes said...

California is so gerrymandered that the next election will change nothing. Districts are designed to deliver 66 -> 70% majorities to incumbents. I doubt that 2010 elections will give the Democrats enough votes to break through the 2/3rds requirement for raising tax rates.

The best chance to elect a Green to a state legislative office seems to be in Los Angeles area and that remains questionable. The Democratic Party Machine is in firm control and knows very well how to play identity politics... though they slipped up a bit in the recent special primary election to replace now Sec. of Labor Hilda Solis. Here, an oriental gained the nomination over a Hispanic in a majority Hispanic district. However, the Hispanic candidate, Gil Cedillo, is a dirty politics, follow the money machine politician of the Frank Hague school.