A Small Victory, By Omission, in November’s Election Results

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Amid all the reports about winners in the November 2018 elections, one small but important victor has been omitted: the constitution of the state of California.

The nature of the victory? The constitution didn’t get any worse.

And that’s a victory because, in most elections for the past 40 years, the state constitution got worse, courtesy of California voters.

The California constitution is one of the world’s longest—an undersigned, Kafkaesque document. This is because we voters keep approving ballot measures—either citizens’ initiatives or legislatively referred measures—to amend it.

But this November, we didn’t amend the constitution. The constitutional amendments on the ballot all lost. The winners were either bond measures or statutory changes. It was especially good to see the deceptive gas tax measure—which included a stealth constitutional amendment which was ignored in the extensive media coverage—go down.

Compare that to November 2016, when five different constitutional amendments passed, adding thousands of words to the constitution. Or November 2014, when two such constitutional amendments were made (on top of a third in the June 2014 election).

California badly needs a new, simpler, shorter constitution. But until it gets that one, it probably doesn’t make sense to add to the mess we currently have. Toast your victory, California constitution—you probably won’t have such a triumph again.





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