To get more elections and better branches …
Let's call a constitutional convention now
Rewriting constitutions seems to be the only way to move beyond financially broke and politically broken. We trim and blend three 2009 op-eds on political reform from: (1) Los Angeles Times, May 20, on elections by Joe Mathews; (2) Los Angeles Times, May 21, on a state constitutional convention by the editors; and (3) Joel S. Hirschhorn on branches. Joe Mathews is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
by Mathews, by LA Times editors, and by Hirschhorn
A vote for more votes in California
Four elections annually?
The Swiss routinely vote four times a year. The Swiss, who developed the system of initiative and referendum, face roughly the same number of ballot measures as Californians, but each individual ballot is shorter. While four elections a year may sound like a lot, that’s not much more than now.
Despite that Swiss voter turnout is nearly as low as California's, California should replace its system of every-other-year regular elections -- supplemented by specials -- with four elections annually.
With quarterlies, the governor and individual cities and counties wouldn't have to call special elections. (We might even strip the governor of the power to call specials.) If a measure had to be placed on the ballot or a candidate had to be replaced, within 90 days there’d be an election.
Under pressure to meet deadlines, legislators at times rush to put constitutional amendments on the next ballot. Ballot initiative sponsors, too, often make drafting errors. This system would allow both to take their time.
Instead of considering a dozen different ballot measures twice a year, voters would have to consider two or three measures every three months. This would give the media time to cover and debate each measure. Currently, they focus on just one or two high-profile measures in each election, ignoring the rest.
A quarterly system wouldn't be much more costly. Statewide elections typically cost from $50 million to $100 million. Quarterlies could be combined with voting by mail and instant runoff voting (which permits voters to rank choices), thus reducing costs.
JJS: Those last two ideas -- vote by mail and ranking candidates -- might even do more good than quarterlies. And a convention might be needed to get them.
California needs a state constitutional convention
Rebooting Sacramento by rewriting the state's Constitution seems to be the only way to move beyond financially broke and politically broken.
Initiatives confuse. Revolts fail. No amount of electing and reelecting people who promise to fix things seems to move us forward. It's time to reboot.
There have been calls for months now to convene a state constitutional convention. It's a good idea. The state Constitution runs to two fat volumes in print and is padded each year by new voter initiatives or legislative propositions. Retooling is one necessary step to make the state function better.
Of course, things can go wrong. How would delegates be picked? Would unions control a convention, or union-busters, or Proposition 8 advocates or opponents? Every care must be given to the details, and it is essential to include in the initiative that authorizes a convention -- alas, there must be a ballot measure -- restrictions on what it would be allowed to address.
A convention could push the Legislature to accept deeper, more far-reaching reforms than it might otherwise. The Bay Area Council, which is leading the charge for a convention, has put "proportional representation" in the Legislature. Will voters, already angry at Tuesday's barely comprehensible ballot measures, embrace something quite so cutting-edge? Bring on the ideas. Bring on the convention.
JJS: Both the states and the United States need them.
Equal Branches -- Urban Myth?
Nowhere in the Constitution or the Federalist Papers is there any statement that the three branches are coequal. They do have distinct constitutional responsibilities, but that does not make them coequal.
The Founders, if anything, intended for Congress to be preeminent, not the executive branch. Only Congress has the constitutional power to remove the President and other high officers of the executive branch as well as the judiciary, but the latter cannot remove any member of Congress. And Congress has control of raising and spending government funds as well as the power to overrule any presidential veto of legislation.
As to the Supreme Court and the whole judiciary, they function only as long as Congress provides funds, the executive branch provides security, and both choose to obey court decisions. More importantly, the Supreme Court does not act on its own to enforce the Constitution, even when the President and Congress disobey it, but it could.
Presidents have accumulated far more powers than ever envisioned by the Constitution. We need Congress and the judiciary to use their constitutional powers to constrain the presidency.
Congress, despite their oath of office, has refused to honor and obey a constitutional option in Article V: a convention of state delegates that could propose constitutional amendments, despite over 750 applications from all 50 states for a convention. No branch has responded.
By regularly invoking the false coequality of branches argument and its derivative checks and balances thesis, politicians keep Americans believing the myth. Coequality adds an aura of respect for government that politicians desperately want.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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