Archive for 2009

Swap Meet: Steve’s Close-up, Meg’s Woo Hoo

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

poiznervideoThe Ebert & Roeper Report: At post time, there were a measly 186 views of Steve Poizner’s new campaign video over at You Tube (three of them from Calbuzz – who says we have no life?) but Team Commish says that’s not the point.

The slick and shiny 7:38 video is being mailed on DVD to thousands of grassroots, donor and activist Republicans around the state – i.e. primary voters – as an “introductory” look at Poizner and his tax cut platform, a new move in his tortoise-and-hare bid to catch front-runner eMeg Whitman.

“Many people have yet to see Steve in person or hear him speak,” said campaign flack Jarrod Agen. “This gives a preview of the style and tone Steve will take both in messaging and advertising.”

Ominously titled “Back from the Brink,” the spot features the candidate speaking directly to the viewer while pacing around a spacious L.A. loft (nice refurbished hardwood floors!), amid a steady stream of camera angle cuts and iconic California images displayed on a background big screen TV,  all set to a cover of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” we’re pretty sure we last heard in the elevator of the Senator Hotel.

With Commish in his familiar Full Silicon Valley uniform of open-necked royal blue shirt, blazer and propeller head glasses, the tight shots sometimes make his head look bigger than the Rock of Gibraltar, but viewer reactions to the straight-into-the-camera device will be an intriguing test of how well Poizner visually projects cright_ebert-roeperonfident leadership.

More than any candidate in the race, Stevie Wonder looks like, well, a normal person, kind of a cross between George Deukmejian and William H. Macy, which could work either as a weakness or a strength. If change-hungry voters are in the mood for an average looking guy whom they’d trust to come by the house and fix their computer, then Poizner’s “detail oriented, hands-on” message might sell; if they’re looking for a more traditional pol’s projection of Reaganesque stature, he might suffer from a Gravitas Gap with Meg.


eMeg Watch: Speaking of messages to supporters, we’ve just dug into our Friday “Field Notes,” Team Whitman’s little weekly e-blast, featuring a chatty note from Herself (“I enjoyed spending time this week with members of the Sacramento County GOP Central Committee at their holiday party”), happy, happy talk from the campaign trail (“While several at the event noted there is much work to do to re-energize the GOP in California, they said they are inspired to see a candidate like Meg enter onto the scene”) and even fun-filled features for the family (“Which of these peaks is the highest in California?” Memo to Calbuzz kids: Take Mt. Whitney and the points).

Although we’ve long been suckers for campaign propaganda brimming with an earnest, feel-good, Up-With-People tone –- kind of like the dumb-ass view eMeg seems to ascribe to voters –- here’s this week’s Calbuzz version of Field Notes from the Meg Whitman Campaign:

-Meg heads to Delaware! Meg Whitman is one of America’s premier business leaders, and she proves it again by traveling to The First State for a date in court, as eBay and Craig’s List sue each other’s asses off!

-Another big national interview for Meg! Building excitement for her campaign to be elected Governor of the United States, Meg gave a big interview to Time Magazine, perfectly reciting her talking points about a “spine of steel” and disdain for being “well liked”  – once again confusing the “need to be popular” with maintaining enough political clout, loyal allies and tolerant adversaries to accomplish an agenda in political office!

America just loves CEOs! Meg keeps dazzling voters by explaining that what California really needs is a high-powered, obscenely rich business executive willing to throw tens of millions of dollars into her own campaign – and by laughing off foolish public opinion polls that show ordinary people think CEOs are “greedy and willing to break the law.”

WooHoo for Meg!

Three dots: Reason #686 why Dianne Feinstein would peak the day she announced her candidacy for governor…Inquiring minds want to know:  Has Gavin Newsom ever uttered a single declarative sentence that wasn’t bragging? At least he’s not insecure…Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Neck deep in sand, Really Really (Self) Important Reporters fret about top-rank bloggers joining White House press pool.

Clips: Rachel, Jaimee & Kalika Meet Ed Mendel

Friday, December 4th, 2009

rachel uchitelPersonally, I’d use a lob wedge, Elin: Obsessed with Rachel Uchitel (right), Jaimee Grubbs and Kalika Moquin, the entire staff of the Calbuzz Department of Celebrity Gawking and Guilty Pleasures has been severely reprimanded for spending far too much time hanging out at TMZ, Radar Online and usmagazine.com this week, following every twist, turn and sext message in the Tiger Woods School of Professional Driving saga.

With that in mind, this week’s coveted Little Pulitzer Investigative Punditry award goes to Charles P. Pierce, whose sharp Esquire essay on the situation not only raises some actual intriguing social issues, but also is simply the best thing written about the case.

…when Tiger ran his Escalade over a hydrant and into a tree, and his reputation squarely into a ditch, he then produced a cover story that smacked of implausibility, when it didn’t smack of utter science fiction. Listening to Tiger explain how he’d managed to hit two stationary objects within thirty yards of his driveway — and how his plucky wife pulled him from his non-burning vehicle by smashing the back window with a golf club — was like listening to Peter Lorre telling Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, ‘I certainly wish you would have invented a more reasonable story. I felt distinctly like an idiot repeating it.’

Like virtually every politician in America (Barney Frank comes to mind as a notable exception) Woods has worked tirelessly to construct an idealized image of himself and to control as closely as possible the way he is portrayed in the media. And just like every politician who missteps into scandal, he now is paying a steep price for falling from grace, a cultural narrative that Pierce, who got bashed by Team Tiger when he wrote some unflattering things a decade ago, gets just right:

But the more impenetrable Tiger’s cocoon was, the more fragile it became. It was increasingly vulnerable to anything that happened that was out of the control of the people who built and sustained it, and the events of last week certainly qualify. Now he’s got one of those major Media Things on his hands, and there is nothing that he, nor IMG, nor the clinging sponsors, nor anyone else can do about it. He is going to be everyone’s breakfast for the foreseeable future…And he’s going to be some kind of punch line for the most of the rest of his public career.

Old guycalperss win again: Mega-kudos to our old friend Ed Mendel, who carries off this week’s prize for Investigative Blogging for his recent splendid scoop, disclosing how the California Public Employees Retirement System lost $1 billion in a blind faith purchase of goofy investments which turned out to be backed by subprime mortgages and other risky assets.

Mendel and Calbuzz are both so old that we met when he worked for the Sacramento Union, the first newspaper west of the Mississippi fercrineoutloud. A 30-year veteran foot soldier in the war of words, he’s  reinvented himself online as the state’s most dogged reporter regularly covering CalPERS and CalSTRS, which have two of the world’s biggest investment portfolios, along with 80 other public employee pension funds.

His latest excloo, explaining how fund execs fell for exotic financial instruments called “structured investment vehicles,” is a reminder that California’s  enormous public pension systems have long been inadequately covered, when covered at all; despite the billions at stake, the story’s historically proven just too complicated and filled with too many numbers to hold the interest of your average High-Powered News Executive.

Amid the continuing collapse of California’s finances, however, untangling the system’s byzantine structures and multi-layered scams is not only an increasingly important political yarn but also a terrific example of throwback public interest journalism, making Mendel’s site a must read.


The future starts here: Media junkies in need of a new doorstop, or with a spare eight or nine hours on their hands, are well advised to check out “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” the 15,766 word opus by Washpost suit Len Downie and journalism egghead Michael Schudson, in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review.

Despite its arid tone, the piece does a swell job of describing and defining the seismically disrupted news and information landscape of today. The yarn  comprehensively catalogues and analyzes virtually every major business model and experimental form of journalistic enterprise swirling in the Wild West new media world, concluding with a list of recommendations to nurture and sustain what the writers dub “accountability journalism.”

What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs. Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know. ‘It’s so simple it sounds stupid at first, but when you think about it, it is our fundamental advantage,’ says Tim McGuire, a former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. ‘We’ve got to tell people stuff they don’t know.’

The CJR piece suffers from one big flaw: a foreshortened, MSM gatekeeper perspective that looks more to the past than the future for solutions, mistaking the map for the territory. Jan Schaffer, director of American University’s Institute for Interactive Journalism, sums the problem up in one of several critiques of the report smartly offered in the same issue:

If we really want to reconstruct American journalism, we need to look at more than the supply side; we need to explore the demand side, too. We need to start paying attention to the trail of clues in the new-media ecosystem and follow those ‘breadcrumbs.’ What ailing industry would look for a fix that only thinks of ‘us,’ the news suppliers, and not ‘them,’ the news consumers? I don’t hear from any of those consumers in this report.

Still, the Downie-Schudson collaboration offers a first-rate overview pulling together all the crucial strands of what’s happening in the post-newspaper, post-network news report world of journalism. You can find it here.

Why toraboraladenRumsfeld is a bigger weenie than you even thought: After Obama’s big speech on Afghanistan the other night, the insufferable Donald Rumsfeld started whining that the president had unfairly trashed him by describing how the former Defense Secretary in December 2001 shined on urgent requests for more troops to help capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, when the U.S. had him cornered in a rugged area of the eastern White Mountains known as Tora Bora.

Thanks to the Chron’s trusty Carolyn Lochhead, who pointed to a just-released Senate Foreign Relations Committee report about the incident,  however, the full scope of the blunder by Rumsfeld and top commander General Tommy Franks becomes clear.

When Gary Berntsen, the senior CIA paramilitary commander on the scene, went to Major General Dell Dailey, commander of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan to plead for the troops, he was flatly turned down “on orders from Franks at U.S. Central Command Headquarters,” according to the report, “Tora Bora revisited: How we failed to get bin Laden and why it matters today.”

Dailey refused to deploy U.S. troops, explaining that he feared alienating Afghan allies.

“I don’t give a damn about offending our allies,” Bernsten shouted. “I only care about eliminating al Qaeda and delivering bin Laden’s head in a box.”

Dailey said that the military’s position was firm and Bernsten replied, “Screw that.”

Whatever you think of Obama’s just-announced policy on the Af-Pak war, the report is a well-written, extraordinary narrative that goes a long way to explaining why we’re still mired in Afghanistan eight years later.


Well they’ve got to be at least half right: Our pal Carla Marinucci made us green with envy once again with her blog post reporting all the A-list names – Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, Kate Capshaw and Stephen Spielberg, Peter Morton, Chet and Janice Pipkin, Rob Reiner, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, David Geffen, Wallis Annenberg, Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco, Stephen Bing, Larry Ellison, Diane Von Furstenberg, yada yada yada – who pitched in big bucks to Jerry Brown’s (shhh) campaign for governor at his big Brentwood fundraiser last month.

But we were kinda’ baffled when she reported in the same piece that the funder had raised Crusty only $700K in November, which seemed rather low. Then came Carla’s Chronicle colleagues (we love the smell of alliteration in the morning), Phil Matier and Andy Ross, who reported a few days later that the AG had raised $1.65 million for the month.  Figuring there’s no one left on the copy desk to reconcile such matters at the paper these days, we did our own actual reporting and came up with $1,577,700, giving the nod to M&R on this one.

Mlingleaholo Fail: The Calbuzz Maui bureau is more than a little miffed at our former colleague Greg Lucas, who spoiled our world exclusive about the budget woes of Hawaii’s state government with his own scoop on this crucial, pressing national story over at California’s Capitol.

Just when we were poised to deduct the total cost of our Napili Bay junket  by cobbling together a quick and dirty post buttressed by a couple of stats  ripped off from the Honolulu Advertiser, here comes Lucas, who gets an actual copy of Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle’s budget message, beating us to the punch by writing off his own trip to Kaui a couple weeks earlier.

Mele kalikimaka to you too, bruddah.

How eMeg Spends Money & Why Poizner Doesn’t

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

megauctionMeg Whitman’s people wrote another big check for another, retooled statewide radio ad this week, while Steve Poizner’s e-blasted a memo assuring supporters that his pathetic, single digit standing in the polls was no reason to tap his own big pile of filthy lucre just yet.

Poizner’s letter is posted over at Flashreport, while conservative yakker Eric Hogue has a a right-wing critique of it up at Hoguenews. In stream of skillful spin only slightly longer than the L.A. phone book, Poizner manager Jim Bognet tackles the key question bestirring some of his backers and puzzling the Calbuzz cognoscenti:

Why the hell hasn’t The Commish yet tapped his personal fortune to get his name out there, at a time when eMeg has already begun to build a sense of inevitability in the Republican primary race for governor?poizner

Proper timing is a central tenet of our plan. We understand that the general public is not paying attention to the 2010 governor’s race – and won’t be until a few months into next year. Californians are focused on raising their families and making ends meet in a difficult economy. While there are a few thousand insiders intently paying attention, the Poizner campaign is quietly progressing while keeping its focus, rather than expending excessive time, energy, and money on inside baseball . . .

Early and excessive spending by the Whitman campaign has had an impact on the polls. While this is to be expected, it is largely meaningless. With the primary still more than seven months away, multiple surveys confirm that the electorate hasn’t engaged and the overwhelming majority of voters are undecided. Whitman’s poll numbers ultimately reflect an increase in name identification, not lasting support. At this point in the race, Name ID means little. Just ask Jon Corzine.

Fair enough, but their whole the-race-starts-when-we-say-it-starts message strikes a lot of insiders,  Republicans and Democrats alike, as a short-sighted rationalization for giving eMeg a free shot at building the perception she’s the presumptive nominee while Single Digits Steve remains a virtual unknown.

radio_wavesPrime example: Whitman’s multi-million dollar investment in an ongoing, low-profile if costly, radio campaign — designed to boost her name ID and three-point platform of creating jobs, cutting spending and fixing education -– has been a shrewd bit of communications strategy.

Says Democratic consultant Bill Carrick of LA, one of the best in the business: “It operates to some degree under the radar. But in a state where people are in their cars one to three hours a day, if you stay with it long enough and spend enough, it has the potential to be very effective -– a sort of slow burn impact that can move voters. Every day, drip by drip, she’s communicating with voters.”

And while Team Poizner has expended energy on ginning up a debate about debates to capitalize on Chicken Meg’s fearful avoidance of nose-to-nose confrontations, her sustained radio campaign has kept her in the public ear, if not eye:

“It has allowed her to be visible while she’s still somewhat a candidate in training,” said Carrick.

On the other hand -– as we former editorial writers are wont to say -– eMeg’s spending is indeed as a thing of wonder. Its obscene magnitude, coupled with her let-them-eat-cake financial platform, may yet backfire in an economic atmosphere which isn’t going to find many presents under the tree this Christmas.

Check out the Secretary of State’s official reports for Margaret C. Whitman who has spent – your best Carl Sagan voice here – millions and millions. Already.

The spending report we looked at totals the first six months of 2009. Keeping in mind there’s millions of bucks worth of updating to do, consider that in the month of June alone, eMeg’s nut was $1,672,637.70.

Here’s some other six-month random numbers to ponder:

— $2,111,774.29 – Amount spent on consultants.
— $943,067.71 – Total for internet and online services.
— $462,642.44 – Dished out for campaign employee salaries.
— $430,723.32 – Thrown at polling and other research services.
— $102,076.71 – Amount spent on private aviation services.

(Trying to figure out exactly who’s getting paid what is a bit challenging, but it looks like among the consultants, Scott Howell has been getting $75,000 a month [maybe that includes commissions and/or fees?], Henry Gomez Gonzales was paid at $36,000 a month, SJZ consultants at $36,000, Jeff Randle at $27,500,  the Davis Group, Heuter and Associates, Strategy Co. and Mitch Zak, all at $20,000 a month.)

Of course, this was before eMeg hired media man Mike Murphy, who, you gotta guess, is gonna make some serious change off the campaign.

Among staffers –- and we sincerely hope we’re not stirring up a hornets’ nest here –- top pay was going to Tucker Bounds and Todd Cranney who appeared to be pulling down $15,000 a month, followed by Michael Saragosa at $12,500, Sara Myers at $12,000 and John Endert at $10,500. (The volcanic Sarah Pompei hadn’t signed on yet, along with several others.)

We gotta say we were a bit stung on behalf for our old colleague Mary Anne Ostromtolstoy from the San Jose Mercury News, sitting in the nosebleed seats at $7,166 a month.

For comparative purposes, consider this: Tom Campbell’s “Recipient Committee Campaign Statement” (tracking all income and expenditures) from 1-1-09 to 6-30-09 is 103 pages; Poizner’s is 256 pages and Whitman’s is a staggering 668 pages –- on track to match Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” by the end of the year.

Whether eMeg’s Queen Midas strategy proves far-sighted or folly will not be known, of course, until the results of the June primary are in. At this point, Team Poizner’s attack on her spending sounds suspiciously like whistling past the graveyard.

Part-time Leg Would Steal Power from People

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

stevemaviglioBy Steve Maviglio
Special to Calbuzz

Legislature bashing has become California’s new official blood sport. From Gov.  Schwarzenegger’s “girlie men” comments at the 2004 Republican Convention to Democratic Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s October tongue-lashing, lawmakers have been weathering a constant stream of criticism, some of it well deserved. The result has been historic low approval ratings, according to the most recent Field Poll.  It also has spawned a new initiative designed to slash their pay and make them part-time.

By design, the legislature is a sitting duck for criticism. It is inherently slow (to protect against rash actions), complicated (constraining power by creating more obstacles than opportunities to pass laws), and representative (ensuring citizens and interests all have a voice).  Two voter-approved initiatives pushed by the right —  term limits and the 2/3 budget approval threshold – have made matters worse by handcuffing the legislature’s ability to get things done.

But does this inaction merit returning California to a part-time legislature and slashing lawmaker pay by at least 50 percent, as the new initiative proposes? What would California’s government and politics be like if it passes? Who would be the winners? And who (besides the Legislature) would be the losers?

The big winner would be the governor. Freed from a pesky legislature that often counters executive power and provides oversight, the governor would drive the public policy agenda without accountability. Under the initiative, the governor would also be able to call unlimited special sessions and dictate their terms, further weakening the legislative branch’s independence.

The state bureaucracy under the governor’s control also would thrive without lawmakers around Sacramento to regularly call agencies on the carpet. There would be no time for hearings on agency regulations –- the ones that allowed felons to become day care workers, the lack of regulations for summer heat protection for farm workers, or sweetheart computer deals negotiated by the administration.

Also benefiting would be Sacramento’s special interests and their army of lobbyists. Under the initiative, lawmakers would serve just 90 days per year. Meanwhile, special interests would be working full-time. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out who would have the upper hand on complex policy issues: amateur lawmakers or experienced professional lobbyists for insurance companies, utilities, banks, and unions

Professional staff also would become more powerful. Term limits are already empowering some legislative staffers to be more knowledgeable about lawmaking than lawmakers themselves (see Sunday’s Los Angeles Times profile of Senate staffer Kip Lipper). This initiative would make matters worse, as it does nothing to reduce legislative staff. In fact, it might actually increase it. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Texas, with its part-time legislature, has hundreds more staffers than California.

quentin-tarantino-gun-to-headThe biggest loser, of course, would be the public.

Under the initiative, there would be little time for rank-and-file Californians and the press to weigh in on legislation. The California Constitution requires all bills to have a 30-day review after they’re printed. But under the initiative, the part-time legislature would have only 30 days to convene in January, and then be called back in May for 60 days to conclude their business (including  holding hearings and passing a budget). That would mean thousands of bills would have to be considered in two months, causing a frenzy of rushed review of complex policy. That effectively would shut out public input, leaving only the special interests to do the sausage-making.

The legislature itself also would look far different. California has one of the most diverse group of lawmakers in the nation, representing a wide variety of ethnic and socio-economic groups. According to the NCSL, part-time legislatures are disproportionately white, wealthy, and older. After all, what farm, school or business could allow a key employee to leave for three or four months at a time to serve in Sacramento? And who else besides the wealthy could raise and spend the millions in campaign dollars it takes to get elected, knowing it was only a part-time gig with little influence on public policy?

Part-time legislators also would have considerable conflicts of interest. In Texas, for example, the sub-minimum wage paid Texas legislators has resulted in repeated episodes of corruption. Legislators repeatedly have used their office to champion their clients and employers. (This year the Texas legislature was forced to toughen its disclosure requirements after a public outcry.)

Compare that to California. Robert Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies recently noted in an NCSL publication: “We don’t see examples of outright conflicts in California…My feeling is, California legislators have less time to have outside income than obviously the legislators in Texas.”

Rural and small town California also would take a hit. Power would shift from a Legislature elected by 120 different districts to a governor elected by a single statewide electorate.

Case in point: Northern California. Tim Hodson, the Executive Director of the Center for California Studies at CSU Sacramento, pointed out in a California Journal article a few years ago that 1.4 million Californians lived in the 21 counties north of Sacramento. They were represented by four senators and seven Assembly members who had 24 district offices. Those legislative members, he noted, often worked as a block on district issues. But without a full-time legislature, they’d have no advocate in Sacramento; none of the past seven governors have had field offices north of Sacramento, and no statewide elected official has served from the area in the past 50 years.

Most states with part-time legislatures are rural and only six are as limited in their scope as what the proposed California initiative calls for (Montana, the Dakotas, Utah, Wyoming, and my home state of New Hampshire). At the other end of the spectrum, all but one of the top 11 most heavily populated states in the nation have full-time legislatures. Texas is the exception, and there is a strong movement there to make the Lone Star state’s lawmakers full-time.

Here in California, the initiative is Exhibit A for what’s wrong with our state’s initiative process. It’s the brainchild of the right-wing initiative factory propped up by an AstroTurf “citizens group.” Its author is conservative Sacramento lawyer Tom Hiltachk, whose last failed effort was an attempt to divide California’s electoral votes.

Proponents have yet to find a sugar daddy to bankroll their effort. Part of the reason is a PPIC poll that showed only support at a lowly 23 percent (the poll was before the initiative was amended to include the salary cut. Private polling of the new initiative I’ve seen shows only slight approval.)

Despite daily plugs on the right-wing “John and Ken Show,” time is running out for the initiative to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. And despite their frustration with the legislature, Californians appear to be wise enough not to want to turn back the clock.

Steven Maviglio is the executive director of Californians for an Effective Legislature, www.effectivecalifornia.com, Twitter: effectivelegis, Facebook: Citizens for an Effective Legislature.

Con Con Pros: Citizens Should Propose Reforms

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

wunderman2By Jim Wunderman
Special to Calbuzz

California’s state government is broken. This dysfunction has left our state unable to deal with the serious issues of our time.

This hurts our state, it hurts our economy and it hurts Calbuzz readers. California’s dysfunction has made us a laughing stock, but it’s not funny, it’s tragic. Californians are frustrated – they should be – and they want something done.

At least two groups have put together serious, well-recognized efforts at reform: California Forward and Repair California. Backed by an original $15 million investment, California Forward has gathered some of the top leaders in our state, plus experts who know the system from the inside.  They came up with a high-priority list of reforms and whittled them down with a “politics of the possible” filter.  California Forward has produced a reform package with many items Repair California, and my organization, the Bay Area Council, might support.

Some have asked if California Forward succeeds, does California still need a constitutional convention?  The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”

con_conThe source of our woes are deep, including:  an out of control budget process; the broken balance of power between the state and local governments; our election process; our initiative process; term limits; too many overlapping jurisdictions; a lack of sun setting or review on new government units; too much centralized power; unfunded mandates; and poorly constructed executive and legislative branches.

These problems require a big fix, as soon as possible.

The way to do that is with a constitutional convention to examine our governance system in total, and propose a holistic, systemic fix. State constitutional conventions have been successfully called more than 230 times in the United States. It is time to call one in California.

Repair California has turned in ballot language to call the first California convention in more than 130 years.  The measures would call a limited convention to reform four areas of the constitution:

— The budget process;

— The election and initiative process;

— Restoring the balance of power between the state and local governments; and,

— Creating new systems to improve government effectiveness.

Who will be in the room?  That is the critical question and the makeup of this convention is why this effort will succeed where other California reform efforts have failed.

Today, due to deep cynicism, “who” is proposing the reform matters as much as the reform itself.  Voters have made clear they no longer trust “experts” or politicians, they only trust themselves. Due to the drawing of everyday Californians as part of the delegation, this convention will be a celebration of our democracy and our state’s incredible diversity.  John Adams said of gatherings like conventions that they “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large.  It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”  The convention proposed for the November 2010 ballot will produce just such a group.

How do everyday citizens make good decisions on reform?  Repair California believes you need established experts there as well.  Therefore, a smaller additional group of delegate seats will be divided by population among California’s counties. In each county, a committee of five local government leaders will review applications at public meetings and pick their county’s expert delegates.

This innovative approach mixes the values of everyday Californians with experts chosen by the elected leaders closest to the people.  It also ensures that the convention’s reforms are vetted by a pool of people just like the voters who will eventually decide on the product of the convention.  The “proposers” will be the people.

The United States of America was founded on a unique vision of self-government that became an inspiration to the world.  The founders and the framers believed, as Thomas Jefferson said, “Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government… I am not among those who fear the people.”  Over a half century later, President Abraham Lincoln renewed the spirit of 1776 when he declared that America was a place “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Today, California democracy is a bizarre shadow of the founders’ original vision.  Sacramento has been gathering cobwebs for some time, undermined by special interests, raw partisanship, and citizen disenchantment.  In order to once again become a living expression of the founders’ inspiration, California desperately needs a democratic renewal.

While perfect is not possible in any endeavor, this innovative convention was shaped by the state’s best thinkers and thousands of other Californians to reflect the political, geographic and cultural diversity of this huge state.  It is geared to succeed at the ballot.  California needs fundamental change, and no other reform proposal offers this good of a deal.  Not even close.  It is time to let the people speak.  Call the convention.

Jim Wunderman is the President and CEO of the Bay Area Council and a member of Repair California at www.repaircalifornia.com.