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How Wannabe Govs Stand on Constitution Do-Over

May21

wigs_41Meg Whitman embraced the call for a constitutional convention by an influential business group Wednesday, while Republican gubernatorial rival Steve Poizner scoffed at the idea as “one more excuse” for Sacramento politicians.

Democratic front-runner Jerry Brown gave the convention call the old paddle-on-the-right, paddle-on-the-left treatment, while S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom gussied up his longtime support for the idea with a brand new branding message. And L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, more focused on licking his wounds from a stinging surrogate election defeat, gave the world’s shortest answer when asked for his take on the constitutional remodel.

One day after California voters (well, about a quarter of them who bothered to participate) delivered a deafening roar of disapproval to Capitol electeds by overwhelmingly rejecting a propositional package of alleged budget reforms, the political atmosphere crackled with the lexicon of political change, as vows to “overhaul” and “restructure” a “failed system” and a “broken government” echoed throughout the state.

In Sacramento, the corporate good government group Bay Area Council formally unveiled their plan to call a constitutional convention for the purpose of revamping state government, the most sweeping proposal put forth on a day that politicians devoted to recalibrating California’s political zeitgeist.

jimwunderman1“If ever there was a tipping point in history, this is it,” Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman told a Sacramento news conference, apparently figuring that if ever there was a day for rhetorical excess, this was it.

Wunderman brought along state senator Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who said he would carry legislation to try to push the Legislature into convening a convention; if that fails, the council is prepared to mount an initiative campaign to do the job. A check of the groups’ web site yielded who, what, where, when and how details of the convention call, along with this third deck dinger answer to the question of “why”:

“We think it is undeniable that California’s government suffers from drastic dysfunction – our financing system is bankrupt, our prisons overflow, our water system teeters on collapse, our once proud schools are criminally poor, our democracy produces ideologically-extreme legislators that can pass neither budget nor reforms, and we have no recourse in the system to right these wrongs.”

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Amid such grim political prognoses for the Good Ship Golden State, your crack Calbuzz political team (whose members have done more than their share of scrambling for day-after election stories) set out to survey the contenders in the 2010 governor’s race about the con-con idea, which ranks as the most ambitious reform proposal now on the public agenda.

GOP front-runner Meg Whitman, who’s been busy wooing Silicon Valley and other business groups with her CEO-to-the-rescue pitch, was swift and unequivocal in staking out her position:

“I support the concept of a constitutional convention that can update California’s governance structure. I believe it can be a catalyst for reform that helps California move forward,” eMeg said through a campaign flack. (Yo Meg! Have we mentioned that whole interview thing?)

Not so fast, countered Insurance Commissioner Poizner, who spends most of his waking hours bashing and disagreeing with Whitman:

“The state constitution was written over 100 years ago and could be improved in many ways. But the problems facing California have more to do with the mistakes of the last 100 months than the limitations of a 100 year old document,” he said in a written statement. “At this time, Sacramento doesn’t seem able to write a budget, much less a constitution. Focus on a new constitution will sadly be used by the Sacramento crowd as one more excuse they can’t do their jobs . . . My message to Sacramento is simple: do your job and then let’s talk about a new constitution.”

Tom Campbell, the third Republican in the race, sent a late night email to say he “strongly supports” the convention proposal because revisions of a “fundamental nature” are needed. One crucial constitutional change, he said, is to require ballot initiatives that call for new spending to identify the source of money needed to implement them – either a cut in an existing program or a new tax or fee; that claim should then be validated by a neutral third party, like the Legislative Counsel.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jerry Brown, growing more cautious in what some (we are not among them) might describe as his old age, kinda’, sorta’, maybe endorsed a constitutional convention:

“I haven’t seen it but I’m open to the idea,” Brown, who has this quaint, old school thing about taking his own calls, told Calbuzz. “I’d want to see the terms of the call and how they’re going about doing it.

“It’s an idea that ought to be considered, given the crisis and dead end that the state finds itself in,” the general added. “We need some kind of catalyst for change, that’s for sure.”

Newsom, who months ago (when it wasn’t yet fashionable) stated his support for a convention as a preferred pathway for restructuring government, was too busy rolling out a new campaign slogan – “Buck the System” – to give us a fresh quote. As Chronicle whirling dervish Carla Marinucci blogged it:

“The San Francisco mayor has sent out a fundraising letter, talking up the special election, and suggesting it underscores a populist desire for (you guessed it) change you can believe in, California-style. . . . He’s asking support to “Buck the System” — not strong enough to change that “B” to an “F,” we note — and send him some bucks for the campaign coffers.”

One inconvenient truth Newsom’s letter ignores, however, is that he actually supported Prop. 1A, the centerpiece of the disgraced quintet of measures on the special election ballot. Before launching his latest brave crusade to Stand Up to Da’ Man, in fact, Newsom told a roomful of bloggers at the Democratic convention that he had decided to back 1A because he “had to be responsible” in considering how failure of Arnold’s pet measure would impact city budgets.

(Now that he’s Bucking the System, does that mean Prince Gavin was actually being irresponsible in supporting 1A, or was his endorsement just his own special brand of insouciant, irresponsible responsibility? Inquiring minds want to know.)

Which leads us, finally, to Tony V, who may or may not run for governor – but who, if he does, better shape up his L.A. political base, which opened a can of whupass on his man in the city attorney’s race Tuesday, ignoring the mayor’s foursquare support of City Councilman Jack Weiss in favor of outsider attorney Carmen Trutanich.

When we checked in with the mayor’s office to ask if Villaraigosa supports the constitutional convention call, spokesman Matt Szabo offered the most trenchant comment of the day: “Yes.”


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There is one comment for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    Well it’s nice to hear the eMeg supports the concept of an update – whatever that means. And poor Poizner pretty much talked himself into a gordian knot with that response. I’m a Jerry fan myself – but note to Anne: if he really wants to be governor, he really needs to do something about those eyebrows. A youthful “update” (to steal a word from Meggie) is in order before this race gets serious. Check out the photos of all the candidates and tell me you don’t agree. Superficial? Yes but this is California after all.

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