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Legislature will pursue governance reforms

California legislative leaders and a bipartisan reform group today announced plans to pursue broad portions of the contents of California Forward’s two governance reform initiatives. (Watch video of the press conference below.)

A list of nearly two dozen reforms include reducing from two-thirds to a majority the voting threshold for a state budget, limiting the number of bills members may introduce each session, extending local sales tax voting authority under certain circumstances and implementing. performance-based budgeting. (See the full list at the bottom of this entry.)

It’s an open question as to which of these reforms will make it onto the ballot, an act which requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. But Republicans are dead set against changing the two-thirds threshold as it is their biggest leverage as the minority party.

Here’s the press conference video:

Click through for the detailed hand-out from the Legislature on the package:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, March 11th, 2010
Under: constitutional reform | 1 Comment »

Constitutional Convention effort ends

The campaign to put a Constitutional Convention ballot measure on the November ballot has come to end. Backers say they have run out of money.

“The challenge has been that the high level of citizen interest did not match the financial commitment,” said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, the chief organizer of the campaign. “As a result, we have to press the pause button.”

Repair California was gathering signatures for two ballot measures that would have convened a Constitutional Convention and charged its members with rewriting the way the state governs itself.

The group needed nearly 2 million signatures by mid-April in order to qualify the measures for the November ballot.

Wunderman, whose members at the Bay Area Council pledged $2 million to the effort, pointed to the poor economy.

Campaign manager Clint Reilly estimated it would cost as much as $4 million to gather the signatures but they had only raised $1 million.

“We were not even close,” Reilly said during a press conference this morning in San Francisco.

Posted on Friday, February 12th, 2010
Under: constitutional reform | 3 Comments »

Another constitutional convention town hall

Alameda County Supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty are partnering with the Bay Area Council, Repair California and the Alameda County Citizens for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities to convene the county’s third Constitutional Convention Town Hall from 6 to 9 p.m. this Monday, Dec. 7 in the Dublin council chambers, 100 Civic Plaza in Dublin.

The event will include panel discussions on what a California Constitutional convention’s goals should be and what it’ll take to call such a convention, as well as opportunities for public testimony and a question-and-answer session.

Repair California – a coalition set up by the Bay Area Council to push for a convention – has submitted to the state Attorney General’s office two proposed ballot measures for the November 2010 election: One would amend the constitution to let voters, rather than the Legislature, call a convention, and the other would actually call it.

If these measures make it onto the ballot and are approved by voters, the convention would be held in 2011 and whatever reforms it proposes would require voter approval in 2012. The convention would be specifically prohibited from proposing tax increases or from considering changes to social issues such as marriage, abortion, gambling, affirmative action, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, immigration, or the death penalty.

Monday’s meeting’s organizers say similar meetings in Alameda County and across California, as well as Web-based conversations, seem to show that Californians want changes in governance, including the structure of the Legislature and executive branch; in elections, including the initiative process, campaign finance and term limits; in the budget, including the two-thirds legislative vote, the budget’s term and balancing, and mandated spending; and in revenue distribution, including the relationship between state and local governments.

Attendance is free, and registration starts at 5:15 p.m. I’ve been to one of these already, in September in Oakland – it was extremely well-attended, and thoughtful, but like all things political, it’s easy to get bogged down in partisan rancor. I see that notice of Monday’s meeting has already gone out on the Meetup list of the SF Bay 912 Project, a group of Glenn Beck-inspired, tea-partying conservatives. “Let’s NOT let the LIBS outnumber us and set the agenda — I know it’s a weeknight and everyone has other things to do but try to be there,” the group’s organizer urged.

Posted on Thursday, December 3rd, 2009
Under: Alameda County, ballot measures, constitutional reform | No Comments »

Guv gets ‘transpartisan’ award

A national organization opposed to new restrictions on the citizen’s initiative process today gave Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger kudos for vetoing four bills that would have, among other things, banned the use of paid signature-gatherers.

The Virginia-based Citizens in Charge Foundation awarded the governor with the November 2009 John Lilburne Award, so-named after a 17th Century pamphleteer and political activist.

Schwarzenegger helped coin the term post-partisanship. But Citizens in Charge describes itself as a transpartisan organization.

Uh, what’s a transpartisan?

I asked and the organization directed me to the Transpartisan Alliance’s Web site, where it says:

Transpartisanship acknowledges the validity of truths across a range of political perspectives and seeks to synthesize them into an inclusive, pragmatic whole beyond typical political dualities. In practice, transpartisan solutions emerge out of a new kind of public conversation that moves beyond polarization by applying proven methods of facilitated dialogue, deliberation and conflict resolution. In this way it is possible to achieve the ideal of a democratic republic by integrating the values of a democracy — freedom, equality, and a regard for the common good, with the values of a republic — order, responsibility and security.

Okay. That all sounds good, although I’m still trying to get my mind around the fact that there is such a thing as a Transpartisan Alliance.

Read on for the full press release.

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Posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, constitutional reform | 2 Comments »

Constitutional reform group hires Clint Reilly

Veteran political consultant Clint Reilly has been hired to help run the campaign for two constitutional reform ballot initiatives.

Reilly will move from volunteer adviser to paid consultant at Repair California, a group founded by the Bay Area Council that wrote two ballot measures it hopes to place before voters in the November 2010 election. If approved, the initiatives call for the convening of a Constitutional Convention limited to governance reforms.

Read on for the press release.

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Posted on Monday, November 9th, 2009
Under: constitutional reform | 1 Comment »

Bay Area Council commits $2 million to reform initiatives

Repair California, a coalition preparing two Constitutional Convention initiatives for the November 2010 ballot, will receive $2 million from its chief sponsor, the Bay Area Council.

Steven Hill, a coalition member and director of the political reform program at the New America Foundation, made the announcement a few minutes ago at a constitutional reform convention in Sacramento. It represents about half of what the group estimates it will need to run a successful initiative campaign.

Hill also outlined some of of the details of the planned initiatives, which he said will be filed with the state in the next 10 days.

The first initiative authorizes the voters to call a Constitutional Convention, an act restricted under current law to the Legislature. The second measure convenes a convention limited to the review of governance issues. Its recommended reforms would come back to voters in subsequent elections.

The measure assigns the management of the convention to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

But one of the most discussed components of the draft measure has been how to select the delegates.

The final language is still in what Hill called the “tweaking” stage but he said the coalition is strongly leaning toward a hybrid selection of 435 delegates to a Constitutional Convention. A portion of the members would be appointed by the state’s 58 county boards of supervisors. The balance would be randomly, scientifically selected citizens from throughout the state.”

“It’s like Willie Wonka getting the golden ticket,” Hill told the group. “Everyone is going to want to participate … I wouldn’t be surprised if reality TV shows crop up around the delegates. ”

The convention would cost $1.50 per Californian or about $55 million, Hill also said.

Posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Under: constitutional reform | 7 Comments »

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.

Posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Under: constitutional reform | 3 Comments »

Voters support reform but which ones?

New Field Poll figures released this morning at a constitutional change conference in Sacramento show voters like the idea of reforming the way they govern themselves.

But they are reluctant to make the kinds of reforms that have been discussed such as reducing the two-thirds voting threshold to pass a state budget or raise taxes, modifying or eliminating term limits and altering the California tax system.

“The rub is, what are we going to reform?” said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. “It’s going to be a tall order to put a package before voters that they will support.”

Kimberly Nalder with Cal-State University compared it to the person who hires a trainer but says he will not exercise or east less.  Then six months later, he complains about his trainer.

“That’s California voters,” she said. “They are confused.”

The poll was commissioned for today’s “Getting to Reform: Avenues to Constitutional Change in California,” sponsored by UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West and California Stat’s Center for California Studies. Pollsters surveyed 1,005 registered voters between Sept. 18-Oct. 5. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent for the full sample and plus or minus 4.5 percent for subsets.

The daylong conference is being held at the Sacramento Convention Center, and I’m here all day.

The poll’s key findings:

51 percent believe the state needs to make fundamental changes to its constitution.

48 percent prefer to see a single package of reforms on the ballot rather than a piecemeal manner like the initiative process. 40 percent like the individual measure process.

51 percent support a reform process that uses a constitutional convention rather than a commission appointed by legislators and the governor.

63 percent support the appointment of a broad range of people to rewrite the constitution, including average voters, elected officials and experts.

60 percent would be willing to consider serving on a constitutional reform delegation.

If California is going to reform its constitution, 59 percent prefer limiting its scope to issues of governance and exclude social issues.

52 percent oppose a recent state tax commission proposal to flatten the personal income tax.

65 percent oppose a replacement of the corporate income and sales taxes for a broader tax.

52 percent oppose the elimination of the two-thirds voting threshold in the Legislature to adopt a budget.  That figure goes even higher among Republicans — 69 percent.

69 percent reject the elimination of the Prop. 13 mandate that new taxes require a two-thirds vote. Among Republicans, that figure is 86 percent.

52 percent oppose splitting the tax roll, which would allow the state to increase taxes on commercial properties at a rate higher than that imposed on residential properties.

66 percent support the imposition of a requirement that ballot initiatives identify the source of funds for new programs.

56 percent would support requiring a two-thirds vote on all ballot initiatives that change the state constitution.

57 percent believe the state could continue to provide current levels of service without new taxes if it would strip waste, fraud and abuse from government.

49 percent disapprove of the idea of merging the Assembly and Senate into a single legislative body. 35 percent like the idea.

Posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Under: constitutional reform | No Comments »