“All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require." Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of California.
I read with interest that Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council suggested last week that California convene a constitutional convention to look at its entire system of government. Joel Fox on Fox and Hounds Daily is skeptical. I posted on my New America Foundation blog that it certainly is an interesting idea. I could see Gov. Schwarzenegger, who has reached his "throw up his hands" moment, back such a convention.
Emails and memos I turned up in reporting for my book, The People’s Machine, show that Schwarzenegger’s aides and political advisors discussed just such an idea — albeit not too seriously and not at length — in 2004.
A convention might provide a method to take on many of the untouchable subjects of California politics. Wunderman mentions the two-thirds requirements for passing a budget (a fact of California life since the 1930s) and for raising taxes (a provision of Prop 13, passed in 1978). But any constitutional review needs to be bigger, and think about the state government as a whole. The entire structure of the state, which was largely put in place, should be re-examined.
Does the state’s system of boards and commissions really serve as a check on the government and the professions? What might be a better design? How about local governments? Should counties and cities play the roles they currently play? And what of the state’s system of funding education and higher education? Is the state’s legislature set up correctly, with just 120 lawmakers representing more than 36 million Californians? (For example, a California state senator — there are 40 — represents more people than a California congressman — there are 53). And what about the initiative process? Could it be improved?
(And as a point of personal privilege, we might rethink the location of the capital.)
It may be time for California to start over. The state’s constitution runs to 157 pages. At the very least, it could use some editing.