Government gridlock in Sacramento has been the subject of millions of words and much consternation. However, a couple of comments I heard in listening to former legislators last week made me wonder if it is time to question if the sacrosanct movement to government transparency is something to be challenged.

At the Economic Summit last Friday, former Assembly Speaker, Bob Hertzberg, moderating a discussion of current legislators, noted the pressures of outside interests on legislators disrupts the members’ comradeship and ultimately the body’s effectiveness.

In my discussion with former U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson III about his book, The Black Book, Stevenson said that some reforms have had “paradoxical results.” He pointed to the 1787 constitutional convention in which the doors were locked with reporters and visitors barred from convention sessions. A great document was the result of the convention. Stevenson said when doors are open it’s the lobbyists and the money that comes through the doors making it more difficult to get the work of government done.

Any modern day effort to put the “transparency” genie back in the bottle seems an impossible task. Many would see a crippling of the democratic process suggesting a certain amount of effectiveness be sacrificed for the virtue of transparency.

But the question remains: Is gridlock a product of government opening the doors? The larger question for California in light of calls for a major overhaul of the state government: Could we have a convention today under the transparency rules and produce a California constitution as inspiring and as simple at the original U.S. Constitution?

I asked Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, who has championed transparent government — especially dealing with disclosure of economic interests — if he thinks transparency contributes to gridlock.

Stern said that Governor Brown negotiated with Republicans last year behind closed doors but it was the two-thirds vote to pass taxes and other measures that serves as a roadblock.

Stern did agree that interest group pressure was an obstacle for some lawmakers. He said he would draw the line on transparency laws in which private meetings of top elected officials would remain private, for example. However, he said campaign disclosure should be an open book.

Fellow Fox and Hounds author, Joe Mathews, has often written that the solution to California’s problem might lie in a constitutional convention. Does Mathews think a constitutional convention could create a document to reduce gridlock with all the reporters and pressure groups dissecting conventioneers every move?

Mathews responds: “The lessons of 1787 are not about the value of secrecy but the value of starting with a blank page and producing a new constitution. The Founders didn’t agree on all that much, so they produced a very short, simple constitution. The handful of complicated compromises (think of the three-fifths rule) were the worst parts of the document. An open, democratic California constitutional convention also would agree on very little, and thus give us the sort of short, simple document that the state so desperately needs.”