A Major Newspaper Promotes a Major Reform
A California constitutional convention for all
People hardly ever get around to making major reform, but Californians might just do that. If they do democratize their constitution, and include things like preferential voting (which the Academy Awards has decided to use), then more good ideas would stand a better chance of spreading and winning adoption -- good ideas like geonomics. This 2009 editorial is of August 23.
by the Editors of the Los Angeles Times"A small group of extremists can hold the government hostage," the speaker said. Wild applause. "I've always believed that term limits are a function of demagoguery." Cheers. "Proposition 13 has been a sacred cow. But you know, it's time to look at Proposition 13." It brought the house down, in a gentle sort of way.
The speaker was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, but it could have been almost any featured guest at any of the town halls conducted across the state by Repair California, the coalition of groups building support for a citizens' convention to scrap and replace the state's Constitution. Most in the crowd were on the same page about what ails California and what has to go. Los Angeles Times editorials have long espoused the reform agenda championed by good-government groups and just-left-of-center editorialists and reformers.
But that spotlights an important, although repairable, flaw in the movement for a convention. People who get excited enough about the minutiae of government to come to meetings and swap ideas are somewhat self-selecting. They know what's wrong: California's entire anti-government voter revolt of the last 30 years. But they haven't been able to change the minds of the majority of high-propensity voters who, polling shows, are quite happy with ballot-measure decisions that have enshrined profound skepticism of state government and structural impediments to taxes. If individual challenges to voter-revolt initiatives keep failing, the true believers are hoping that a constitutional convention could wipe them away with one fell swoop.
Defenders of the supermajority requirement, term limits, and the like are not novices; they see a challenge coming to the California they have built, and they are ready for it. California conservatives are hoping for a big year at the ballot box in 2010 and will not be outflanked by a convention. They must be able to identify something in it for them -- a spending cap, perhaps, or an end to "fees" that are actually taxes -- or they will defeat it.
Besides which, the whole point of a convention is to get away from the good-versus-evil mind-set that has the state in gridlock. Reformers may "know" what needs to be done, but progress demands that they be prepared to discuss not only what they want out of a convention but what they would be prepared to give up. The goal must be a better constitution. We recognize that the purpose of a constitutional convention is not to create a forum for the fulfillment of our agenda. Instead, it offers the rare opportunity for meaningful compromise that could benefit conservatives and liberals alike.
Out of an exchange of ideas may come politically viable proposals to create a more responsible and responsive government -- with or without the items on this page's wish list. Likewise, we commit to taking seriously proposals such as a part-time Legislature that, on first blush, sound to us like a counterproductive continuation of the anti-government revolt.
There have been positive signs. Passionate and thoughtful conservatives have participated in forums and salons on fixing the state and have offered terms of engagement. You won't hear Proposition 13's most ardent defenders agree that it is on the table or, for now, entertain even the idea of a "split roll" in which taxes on commercial property rise with the market. But how about fixing the rules that allow businesses to use stock swaps to hide property transfers without triggering reassessment? Some Proposition 13 supporters have gotten on board with that idea, just as some liberals and government-reform groups are willing to countenance the supermajority required to approve tax hikes.
Repair California has taken its town halls to the Central Valley and to the Sierra. On Sept. 2, it will host an event in Irvine featuring former Gov. Pete Wilson and co-sponsored by the influential conservative blog Flashreport and organizations such as the Lincoln Club of Orange County. Many conservatives remain skeptical -- but they too are increasingly open to the possibility that a thoughtful convention could benefit this troubled state. Liberals and good-government groups must show them that they embrace the idea of a convention as a conversation and a chance for compromise -- and not as a stalking horse for their long-standing agenda.
Time to call for another convention?
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