I’ve spent the past year traveling the state, talking with
Californians about their government and why it doesn’t work.

By far, the most frustrating thing
about these conversations – from my end – is the Californian obsession with the
ballot initiative as the solution to all our problems.

My book California Crackup, which I
wrote with Mark Paul, argues that the core problem of the state is a lack of
proper constitutional design. We have election systems, governing systems,
budget systems and initiative systems that all have virtues – but don’t think
together. The state has never had a real moment of constitutional design. Our
dysfunctional system is the product of how it was built: one ballot measure,
one initiative, one decision at a time.

Adding more initiatives or
constitutional amendments – however worthy – onto this system won’t work,
because the system is too complicated and unmanageable and the unintended
consequences are likely to be huge. A reform initiative, in California, is like
adding a room onto the Winchester Mystery House.

I’ve lost track of how many times
that people, after listening to me or my co-author explain that we need a
comprehensive redesign (through a constitutional convention, or revision
commission, or comprehensive legislation action), praise our diagnosis and tell
us they agree. And then, in the very next breath, they ask which initiatives
would fix the problem.

I’m beginning to wonder whether
Californians are capable of solutions that don’t require an initiative. I’m
also beginning to wonder, given our addiction to initiatives, whether it’s
worth fighting the mindset.

Maybe the better way is to allow
initiatives to be comprehensive. California needs redesign. So put the
redesigns into big comprehensive initiatives.

Right now, such initiatives would
violate law and constitution. Initiatives must be limited to a single subject.
And initiatives can amend the constitution – but not revise it. The difference
between amendment and constitution is hard to define, but a massive ballot
measures that rewrote huge parts of the constitution would likely be ruled a
revision. And rightly so.

So maybe we should bow to the
popular madness and fix this thing by initiative. First, pass initiatives to ban
the single-subject rule and permit constitutional revision by initiative. And
then the Mother of All Initiatives – a full-scale constitutional redesign.

And if that seems scary, good.
Maybe it will convince Californians that the state’s problems can’t be solved
by initiative. Maybe it will demonstrate that a convention or revision
commission – with political power across the spectrum represented – isn’t all
that scary or strange, at least compared to the madness of reform by