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California gets plenty of reform advice

Experts on governance reform from throughout the state and the country delivered plenty of advice at today’s daylong conference in Sacramento on the California constitutional reform movement.

The sold-out event at the Sacramento Convention Center featured speakers from a host of universities and other organizations on everything from the history of state constitution revisions and the political realities of reform.

Sponsored by UC-Berkeley, Stanford and Cal-State Sacramento, the conference grew out of a growing statewide interest in reforming the way the state governs itself in the wake of policy paralysis in the Legislature. The Bay Area Council is among a coalition of groups leading a drive to place on the ballot a call for a Constitutional Convention, which would rewrite and bring back to voters proposed changes in governance.

The conference will be aired on the California Channel, the state’s equivalent to CPAN. Check its web site for air dates.

Here is a sampling of what some of these folks had to say:

Amy Bridges, professor of political science, University of California, San Diego — Speaking on prior consitutional conventions, “where people took their responsibilities seriously, ofen at great personal sacrifice, they made great progress in the growth of their state. With any luck at all, we ought to be able to do the same thing.”

Glen Gendzel, assistant professor history, San Jose State University — He suggests taking from potential convention discussion changes related to personal rights, requiring court review of initiatives prior to submission to voters and even the financial playing field during initiative campaigns through the use of public dollars to match those spent by private entities.

Barry Keene, former state legislator who called for a Constitutional Convention when he served in the state Senate — Talking about the time he served on a 1960s Constitutional Revision Commission, he said the disussion was heavily dominated by special interests heavily invested in the status quo. He urged those who participate in the convention, if one is held, not to spend time on disputes that cannot be resolved. California will have a convention, he predicted, as soon as “enough haves have more to lose by the status quo than by risking a new world order.”

R. William Hauck, president and CEO of California Business Roundtable — “We need to ask California to pay more attention to ‘us’ and not ‘What’s in it for me?’ or ‘How will it help me get re-elected?’ ”

Ann Lousin, professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago — To be successful, California Constitutional Convention must produce a document that a majority of its delegates enthusiastically support and one that its voters will adopt.

Alan Tarr, professor and director of the Center for State Constitutional Studies at Rutgers University in Massachusetts — To avoid some of the pitfalls experienced in other states, California should consider holding its convention outside the typical political venues, encourage average citizens to participate and limit the topics under consideration. “If the document is viewed as another top-down reform, it will not go forward,” he said.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen