Constitutional convention movement seeks to let people have voice in “Repairing California”
The last time the state of California enacted any systematic reform of its constitution was 130 years ago. And the Bay Area Council thinks that, given the legislative dysfunctionality and budgetary gridlock on display in Sacramento, the time has come for the state’s first constitutional convention since 1879.
During its Tuesday meeting, Mono County’s Board of Supervisors received a briefing on the topic from County Counsel Marshall Rudolph.
Actually there are two significant movements currently calling for such a convention, but the supervisors and Rudolph looked at Repair California, which they consider the most prominent. Repair California is sponsored by the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored, public policy organization, members of which include some of “California’s largest employers” … in other words “big business.”
Then again, getting the message to city and county governments, let alone the people, is going to take a lot of time, resources and money. Most of the topics Repair California wants to address in what it calls a “limited” convention are ones that directly apply to governance, especially in relation to spending and budgets. No action is planned, for example, on taxes or fees, abortion rights, freedom of the press, etc.
Reacting to a perceived ingnorance of their constituents by lawmakers, one of the convention’s first orders of business, according to Rudolph’s analysis, will be to amend the constitution to provide the public greater power in deciding when to call for a convention. Currently only one route is stipulated in the constitution: by a 2/3 vote, the legislature places the call for a convention on the next general election ballot, in this case November 2010. Bay Area Council talking points say achieving a 2/3 vote in the legislature is difficult, but that a worse scenario would be a failure of the legislature to provide for a convention even after the people vote to convene one, as happened in 1933.
Repair California needs 700,000 signatures by spring to get it on next November’s ballot, and the measure has to be certified not less than 131 days prior in order to qualfiy for the election.
Current polling shows 70% of voters support a convention, distributed linearly across county, age, geographic and ethnic lines. Almost 500 delegates will represent counties (241), assembly districts (240) and Native American tribes (4). They can’t be lobbyists and will be picked via a random population sampling done through the state auditor’s office. (Locally, delegates will likely be pooled from a mix of Board appointees, including one from area school districts.)
The convention will be required to hold at least 20 town meetings statewide, and provide transcripts, a web presence, and full public and media access. An estimated cost of $95 million would ideally be paid for by a $1.75 one-time contribution per taxpayer.
One group of people not on the invited list: bureaucrats and lawmakers. “You’d think that when it came to reforming government, you’d want people in government who know how it works involved in that processs, but that’s not how it works,” Rudolph said. “They specifically don’t want any of those people having anything to do with it.”
Rudolph said there are arguably many facets of the convention that don’t yet have much detail attached to them. “For example, one of the convention’s planks is to ‘facilitate a more funtional form of government,’ but what that means specifically isn’t clear,” he pointed out.
Governments including Fresno County and the Los Angeles City Council have reportedly passed resolutions backing Repair California. Comments from Mono’s supervisors were mixed.
“I don’t know … $95 million doesn’t seem like much compared to [the state’s] $25-35 billion debt,” remarked Supervisor Vikki Bauer. “Besides, nothing else seems to be working.” Board Chair Byng Hunt said he found the convention’s process somewhat “cumbersome,” but agreed that “we have to do something.” Supervisor Tom Farnetti said he’s not entirely sure if [Repair California] is the proper vehicle, but qualified that by adding, “Let’s see what happens.”
“With [the capitol’s] budgetary shell game, unfunded mandates, and repeated borrowing-and-taking … California has become a national laughingstock,” stated Jim Wunderman, Bay Area Council CEO, in a letter to the Board. “But we can turn this around.”
If the convention is a go, delegates are to be picked by spring 2011 with a final plan presented to voters by November 2012.