By 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!”
The 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.