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Political Reform in California: The Big Bang Theory

California’s first constitution was adopted in October 1849 by a
constitutional convention held in Monterey. It was ratified by the voters of
California in November and almost a year later California was admitted to
the Union.

Since that time, there have been many attempts to make revisions to the
constitution. In 1949, the legislature approved and the voters adopted 7 of
the 8 minor revisions proposed by the advisory committee that had been
formed in 1948. Interestingly the one that failed was the recommendation to
increase the number of signatures required for a constitutional initiative
petition from 8 to 12%. This left California with the lowest signature
requirements in the country.

The 1962 Citizen’s Legislative Advisory Commission recommended that the
legislature be permitted to submit proposals for revisions directly to the
voters after a 2/3 vote of the legislature. This eliminated the need for
constitutional conventions to make revisions.

In 1963 the legislature created the Constitution Revision Commission that
would make recommendations to the legislature on possible revisions. The
biggest revision came in 1966, when California switched from a part time
legislature to a full time, salaried one. There are those that would argue
that was the worst decision California voters ever made.

Next year we “celebrate” the 40th Anniversary of that fateful decision. Both
candidates for Governor that year, incumbent Pat Brown and challenger Ronald
Reagan supported it, although Reagan’s close aide Ed Meese has been quoted
as saying that both he and Reagan came to believe that they had made a
mistake.

The purpose here is not to focus on one thing like the pros or cons of a
part time legislature or redistricting. It is to suggest that maybe we need
to go further to reform our political and electoral processes. Maybe we need
a “big bang” constitutional reform package to reshape how we govern
ourselves.

I therefore offer my five point proposal to revise our constitution to fit
the needs of 21st Century California.

First, create an unpaid Electoral Commission to begin the process of
proposing new legislative and congressional districts. Their recommendations
would be due in 2009 and voted upon in the 2010 general election. This would
put new districts in place for the normal 2012 election cycle.

Second, eliminate term limits. They have been ineffective and only created a
permanent political class playing musical chairs with elected offices.

Third, return to a pre-1966 part time legislature. We are one of only 4
states with a full time legislature. The argument that a big state needs a
full time legislature is hogwash. Look what it has brought us, decaying
roads, poor schools and the dominance of the public employees unions.

Fourth, direct the new Electoral Commission, through public process to
develop a plan to increase the number of Assembly seats to better reflect
the growth in our population. 80 members for 35 million people is
ridiculous. Florida has 120 members in its lower house with a population of
17 million.

Fifth, change the make-up of the State Senate from proportional
representation to one or two senators for each of California’s 52 counties.

The “miracle at Philadelphia” in 1787 that produced the U.S. Constitution
gave each state 2 senators so that the smaller states could have equal
representation in the Senate to offset their lack of numbers in the House.

So it should be in California so that small counties can have an equal voice
in shaping the modern California. This would also force the dominant urban
and suburban counties of the Bay Area and Los Angeles to consider the views
of the rest of the state and not just their parochial interests.

Until we forge a new electoral and political system for California, all
other reforms will be held hostage to the entrenched special interests that
now occupy the Capitol.

Time to be bold. Let the dialogue begin.


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