Friday, June 19, 2009

More talk about a possible constitutional convention

In the weeks following the May 19th special election which saw the Legislature and Governor's attempt to close the budget gap go down in flames, talk about a possible constitutional convention has flared up again. Next Monday in Sacramento, representatives of the Bay Area Council and California Forward will hold a public forum to discuss the pros and cons of this reform approach. In this week's Sacarmento News and Review cover story, "California Renovation", reporter Cosmo Garvin takes a comprehensive look at what a Constitutional Convention might achieve. Excerpts are below.

The California Constitution is no work of art.

It’s more like the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Lots of little rooms, stairs that lead nowhere, doors that open onto blank walls and windows set into the floorboards. “We keep adding rooms, but the hallways don’t connect together,” says state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, of our state’s constitutional house of mystery. “There’s not a lot of thought given to the overall architecture.”

Since 1879, the state constitution has been amended 512 times. Compare that to the U.S. Constitution, which you just don’t mess with. Its 27 amendments are straightforward principles concerning the essential function of government and the rights of the governed.


Support is building for a “constitutional convention,” where delegates from all over the political spectrum would hash out a package of fundamental government reforms and then present them to the voters for approval. One group, called Repair California, is hoping to get a measure on the November 2010 ballot that would call a constitutional convention, the first one in California since 1879.

But a constitutional convention is just one way to give state government a makeover. A group called California Forward, led by former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, is hoping to convince the Legislature to put a package of reforms, called a “constitutional revision,” on the ballot in November 2010. “We have a significant challenge here in California, and we need to fix it as quickly as possible,” Hertzberg told SN&R, adding that his group’s approach would be quicker and more predictable than a constitutional convention.

A convention, a revision … or something else entirely. What’s the best blueprint for fixing California’s ramshackle, dysfunctional mystery house of government?

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