Blaming the system - Page 2

A call to rewrite the state's constitution is met with support — and questions

Garamendi called for "majority rule, plain and simple, on every issue." He also suggested extended term limits, and transitioning to a 120-member unicameral legislature to allow representatives to better represent smaller districts.

Other ideas for reform that got bandied about during the summit included reinventing election procedures and considering approaches such as instant-runoff voting, establishing proportional representation, changing the number of signatures needed to place an initiative on the ballot, and establishing an automatic review process for state agencies.

In order to hold a convention, California voters would have to approve two separate ballot initiatives. The first would create an amendment to the current constitution allowing voters to call the convention, while the second would call the actual convention. Both questions could be put to voters on the same ballot, according to the Bay Area Council. Any changes made to the constitution would then have to be ratified by voters.

The process of calling a convention is clear enough, but questions abound on how to proceed from there. For example, how would convention delegates be selected? How many would attend? How would the organizers ensure inclusiveness across ethnic, gender, and economic boundaries? Would the convention open up the entire constitution to debate, or would parties agree to narrow the scope to a few key issues? How would the convention itself escape the same gridlock that critics say has rendered the Legislature dysfunctional?

Without hammering out the fine points, it's hard to know whether the enthusiasm exhibited at the summit could survive the nitty-gritty details of actually going through with a convention. It's also too early to say whether progressives could emerge from such a process satisfied with the results.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward the constitutional convention. "I wouldn't tell you at this point I'm enthusiastic about it because it could be too much blah-blah and not enough action," he told the Guardian. "I do definitely support budget reform — I'm going to make that a priority — and really want to look at the budget infrastructure, certainly the two-thirds majority. I think we need to deliberate on it and make certain that it wouldn't have any unintended consequences."

Sen. Mark Leno shared Ammiano's view that the two-thirds majority requirement tops the list of problems. "I think we could take some modest but profound steps before we open up an entire potential Pandora's box," he said of the convention idea. "I don't wish to dampen the spirits of our friends at the Bay Area Council. Their intentions are very good. But should it go forward, the devil will be in the details."

Goldberg took a similar stance. "The biggest problem is the two-thirds vote requirement for taxes and a budget," he told the Guardian. "If a constitutional convention is the way that issue gets resolved, that's positive. But the question is, how long is that going to take? How are they going to do it? There are so many unanswered questions that I would say, if that's the only way to deal with the two-thirds vote, let's do it."

Robert Cruickshank, public policy director at the Courage Campaign and a blogger with the political Web site, said he feels confident that a convention is a worthwhile pursuit for progressives. His organization conducted a poll of its membership to gauge whether there was progressive support for the idea, he said, and results showed that 92 percent of respondents supported it.

For his part, Wunderman emphasized the convention as a tool that could be used by voters rather than elected officials in Sacramento. "I'm excited about changing the game, changing the rules," he told the Guardian.