Posted by: kbvale | July 1, 2009

California Constitutional Convention: The Solution to California’s Problems?

Californians are angry. Our schools are failing, our infrastructure is crumbling, our prisons overflow and our financing system is bankrupt. We have a legislature that can pass neither budget or reforms.  It is our duty to declare that our government is not only broken, it has become destructive to our future.  It is time for a Constitutional Convention.”

– Reform California website

The current problems in California are hard to miss.  The daily news has been filled with articles on prisoners being released from jail, government employees (from teachers to police officers) being laid off in droves, and other such budget related turmoil.  In response to these events, Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council has started the Reform California movement, which has been holding constitutional convention summits all over the state to garner support.  Their objective is to pass two propositions in the November 2010 election: the first to allow for Californians to call a Constitutional Convention, and the second to call one.  The end result would be a new draft of the State Constitution, which could be put up for voter approval in the November 2012 election.

I was able to attend such a “town hall meeting” when the Central Valley Constitutional Convention Summit was held in Fresno on June 26, 2009. Featuring several notable speakers, the idea of a constitutional convention was addressed, as well as theories about how the government was able to get to this point.  Dan Walters hit the point best, I feel, when he described the system of checks and balances that the founding fathers put into place as being hyper-developed in California, achieving a point where too many people have the ability to stop initiatives.  Now, our government is left with no way to make solutions that make sense, creating deep-set problems that result in the hardships currently experienced in our local governments.

While a lot was said of the process and potential end results, the main discussion was centered on two main issues: the selection process for the 400 delegates for the convention, and how the convention could operate in a progressive manner.  The current constitution stipulates that such a convention must involve 400 delegates that are representative of the state population, but does not go beyond that and thus leaves a lot of room for interpretation.  Who will design and enforce accountability?  How will special interests and other political barriers be kept out of convention proceedings?

While the possible solutions to these questions are numerous, the main result I garnered from the group discussion a high level of fear of change, and of the unknown.  People in this state have very little (if any) experience with such movements, and thus many can’t envision the potential results without some guidance.  While I agree that a Constitutional Convention is necessary in our state (constitutions were designed to be living documents, after all), I think that Reform California cannot gain the results they desire without providing a vision of potential outcomes of such an event.  Unlike the propositions passed in most elections which act as Band Aids to the larger issues at hand, a Constitutional Convention has the potential to completely revamp how government is run and how citizens participate in that system… the possibilities are exciting, and I think the fear will be dispelled if only people realize the potential of this movement.

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