Sticking with convention

More than a year ago, a group of business leaders called the Bay Area Council became so fed up with dysfunction in Sacramento that it called on California to start over. At the time, its plan struck many as a bit extreme. Sure, the state had some problems governing itself. But a constitutional convention? It sounded like a circus in the making.

As the months rolled by, and party ideologues vilified lawmakers who dared to compromise, and budget deadlines passed unheeded, and the government issued IOUs, and elected officials unraveled the fabric of human services meant to protect people in need in just such hard times, and California’s remarkable achievements began to look like ancient history, it became clear that the sad circus was already in progress. A limited convention no longer appeared to be a distraction from real solutions. It began to look like the best option. This page embraced the idea.

Today, a convention moves an important step closer to reality as Repair California -- the coalition spearheaded by the Bay Area Council together with organizations of various philosophies across the state -- files its language for two measures to appear on the November 2010 ballot.

Voters will be asked first to amend the Constitution to permit themselves to call a convention, then, second, they’ll be asked to actually call it. A convention can work. It can give the constantly evolving state an updated government that better serves its restless people.


Meanwhile, others have begun efforts to reform California. One group is trying to make the Legislature a part-time body, as it was before 1966. California Forward, a group of thinkers headed by former Assembly Speaker Robert M. Hertzberg and Automobile Club of Southern California CEO Thomas McKernan, is offering thoughtful and sweeping plans. And now the Legislature is considering reform. A joint Assembly-Senate panel is conducting hearings across the state, confronting its own demons, studying nuts-and-bolts changes to compel lawmakers to do the state’s work better. Lawmakers are to be commended for their efforts, however belated.

Legislators and other supporters of shorter-term plans point out that they need not wait for ballot measures next year, a convention the year after and a vote on a new Constitution the year after that. Perhaps. If California government is already on the right track when convention delegates get together, they can tip their hats and say, “Nice job, folks. You’ve done our work for us.” But if the prospect of a convention disappears, so too, we expect, will the sense of urgency needed to enact other governmental makeovers. Lawmakers, California Forward, Repair California and others should keep at it. Competition is good. May the best ideas win.