The Bay Area Council’s Jim Wunderman kicked off a whirlwind of activity and interest around the possibility of calling a California Constitutional Convention with an op-ed piece he published in the San Francisco Chronicle last August. Since then he has held a summit on the idea in Sacramento and has traveled around the state generating interest for the idea of a Constitutional Convention.
Fox and Hounds Daily caught up to Jim recently to ask him what progress he sees in this quest eight months later.
Q. Your idea for calling a constitutional convention garnered a lot of attention at first. Has that interest grown since August?
A. The interest in holding a constitutional convention has grown substantially since the Chronicle first printed our op-ed piece calling for it in August. The longer the budget debacle played on, the more groups, individuals and the media became interested, many excited. Over the months we’ve had the chance to make quite a few presentations and many of those groups have signed on or are likely to do so.. We’re by no means alone in this, we get lots of pats on the backs from the strangest places.
Q. Does the support and opposition for calling a convention tend to fall into partisan camps?
A. I wouldn’t say one party likes it more than the other, and there are those in both parties that don’t like it. But anyone who cares about what is happening in California, regardless of affiliation, recognizes that major reforms are necessary to get the government functioning as it should. Of course, there are differences in what those reforms should look like. Democrats and leaning groups want to get rid of the two-thirds vote on the budget; Republicans want to see a more cost-conscious, value oriented system. But some leaders in both camps have expressed support for the convention, either hoping that their hoped for reforms would emerge from the process or recognizing that a government stuck in the mud, like the one we’ve got, isn’t helping anybody.
Q. What do see as the greatest obstacles to success?
A. The greatest problem is that confidence in government has fallen so low, it’s hard for people to envision a system in which they trust their leaders. Without any degree of trust, it’s hard to imagine the public would convey upon the Governor and legislature the kind of system where the leaders can make real decisions and be held accountable for them. So somehow, to make this work, we have to expose the general public to the concept that under the right circumstances, they could have a leadership structure that could deliver the kind of results that would make them proud of California again. It’s an interesting challenge. The other gets to the issue of special interests, a lot of people assume the state’s political power groups (you know who they are, so do they) will lay in waiting until the right time and then shoot down anything that limits their position to control the government, even if that control is generally limited to stopping change from happening. We have to demonstrate that the combined power of the public is actually far greater that of any special interest, I suspect we can and will do that.
Q. What interesting ideas about reshaping the state government have you heard in your travels?
A. So many ideas. Not surprisingly, majority rule versus the two thirds gets lots of debate. On the more creative side, a unicameral legislature comes up frequently. A part time legislature of some sort has many fans out there. Allowing local governments more control over finance as opposed to state dictates and mandates is frequently heard, A lot of folks we talk to like the idea we’ve raised of a Texas model Sunset Commission to ensure a higher level of performance and metric based accountability. Most groups, almost all, agree term limits as currently provided are failing, and some adjustment is needed, a variety of strategies have been suggested.
Q. What is the greatest objection or most often raised objection to calling a convention and how do you answer that?
The greatest objection is related to the fear of the unknown, that somehow a convention could result in a worse situation and the old “the devil you know…” argument. We remind people that the status quo in California is extremely dangerous, and should rightfully be the focus of everyone’s worry. There is no great reason to believe that left to its own devices, the government of California is going to repair itself, and suddenly find the will to deal with issues like education, water, prisons, certainly state finance – all areas which provide both immediate and long term threats to our state’s resiliency, competitiveness and quality of life.
Q. One of the questions you get all the time is how the delegate selection will be handled. What proposals are you considering on how to select delegates?
The consensus, and our thinking, is to make sure the delegates truly represent the diversity of California but importantly, that the group not be beholden to special interest pressure (the potential for which would fall into the category of greatest objections). There are a number of ways of selecting delegates that would insure fairness, equity, and independence. These include appointment by county boards of supervisors, to civil grand jury type selection, to a system mimicking the process used in Proposition 11 to select the group that will draw district lines in future state reapportionments. There is no perfect system, but one these, or a hybrid, will provide a group excited about serving and capably delivering a better system for managing our state than the one we have presently.
Q. You talked about putting two measures on the November 2010 ballot. One to allow the people to call a convention and the second to actually call the convention. Do you believe you can get this done by 2010, or do you think more education of the public is necessary before you move ahead?
We’re keeping our options open on that as we continue to take input from around the state. There are many who would like to push ahead as fast as we can, which would be November 2010. Others feel it might be better to spend more time with the public establishing the need for specific types of reforms or process. We shall see.
Q. How do you think the results of the May special election ballot measures will affect the push for a constitutional convention?
Well, clearly if Propositions 1A- 1F don’t pass, the state will be back at square one with the budget and the demand for major structural reform will reach scream level. We don’t believe this should necessarily be the case, that is to say in our view the passage of 1A-1F do not negate the need for major reforms, nor would their failure change the situation that dramatically. Underlying all of this, the state’s ability to function to deliver solutions to 21st century challenges just isn’t there, and won’t be whether or not these measures make it, or don’t (we support them by the way, believing they are the best the legislature could be expected to do under the current framework). So regardless of what happens in may, we will continue the call for major reform.