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Archive for the 'Election reform' Category

Constitutional Convention measure in the works

After sitting through a daylong presentation put on by coalition of business leaders and government reform groups in Sacramento, it seems increasingly likely that voters will see on the ballot in 2010 two measures that would lead to the California Constitutional Convention since 1879.

What is a Constitutional Convention? It’s a group of people charged with developing recommendations for amendments to the state’s Constitution, all of which must be ratified by the voters. How those members are chosen and the scope of their work is still up in the air.

Californians may not realize it but they frequently amend their Constitution through the initiative process.

As the Bay Area Council and its partners — the Center for Governmental Studies, Common Cause, Courage Campaign and League of Women Voters and others — envision it, this convention would focus primarily on governance reforms designed to help resolve some of the state’s intractable problems.

This is scary stuff to people who fear that well-intentioned reforms could carry unintended consequences and leave the state in shambles.

But most of the crowd gathered in Sacramento today seemed to feel that the state is already in shambles thanks, in large part, to voter-approved initiatives that carved out dollars for everything from education to public safety to roads but left state leaders with decision-making authority only over 7 percent of the budget.

Potential reform topics include … Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Under: Election reform, Political events | 6 Comments »

Poll shows record high discontent in California

A new poll released a few minutes ago at the California Constitutional Convention Summit in Sacramento shows that 82 percent of voters believe the state is on the wrong track.

It is the highest level of unhappiness since the Bay Area Council began doing the survey in 2002. (The council is the chief sponsor of the summit.) Pollsters conducted the telephone poll of 800 voters between Feb. 3-5 and it has an error rate of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Just 11 percent though the state was on the right track. (Who are these people, anyway? Did they take this survey while they were on the beach in Hawaii?)

Reasons for the gloom cited included the budget deficit, gridlock in Sacramento, bureaucracy, poor schools and high taxes.

Disapproval ratings for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are in the tank, too, at 60 and 71 percent respectively. (For comparison purposes, Obama’s disapproval rating was 17 percent.)

The chief purpose of the poll, though, was to gather public opinion on whether state should convene a Constitutional Convention, a group that would examine some or part of the state Constitution and place reforms before voters.

Most voters have never heard of it. It was 1879 when California last convened such a group.

But after a series of explanations about what a convention could accomplish, about half the respondents said they would support it.

In an interesting side note, the poll found that 67 percent of those asked supported an open primary in theory. The poll was taken before the Legislature placed an open primary measure on the June 2010 ballot.

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Under: California Legislature, Election reform, Elections | No Comments »

Does California need a new Constitution?

I am in Sacramento today at what’s being billed as a summit of reformers interested in convening a California Constitutional convention.

The event centers around the question: Has California become ungovernable?

Countless examples suggest that it may be true: Major structural budget problems, water, healthcare and prisons, just to name a few. Competing interest groups coupled with partisan gridlock and the sheer size of the problems has conspired to

Ideas include stripping the two-thirds vote threshold to pass a budget, instant run-off for state officeholders, open primaries, unicameral or parliamentary-style legislature, ending term limits, along with campaign finance and initiative reforms.

I’ll be here all day and I’ll report back later on some of the more interesting ideas and who wants to do what.

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Under: Election reform | No Comments »

What does California need? Reform, reform, reform

Sunne Wright McPeak

Sunne Wright McPeak

California’s increasingly precarious financial predicament will require major reforms of a wide variety, agreed  state leaders and former elected officials who spoke to the Contra Costa Council this morning during its annual CCUSA conference in Concord.

They blamed — not in equal parts — term limits, the two-thirds voting threshhold for budgets and taxes, campaign finance reform, partisan primaries, polemic politics in Sacramento and the Legislature’s inability to focus on solutions that work.

Ex=Business, Transportatoin and Housing Secretary Sunne Wright McPeak even went so far as to diss her former boss, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling his decision to roll back the vehicle license fee a terrible one that has helped contribute to at least $6 billion of the state’s structural deficit. McPeak has in the past been very circumspect in her comments about the governor and the three years she worked for him.

Asked how she woudl fix the $41 billion state budget gap, McPeak told the audience she would take three years in order to avoid irreparable damage to schools and social services. But she would hike the sales tax for two or three years and reinstate the vehicle license fee and permanently dedicate it to city and county governments.

McPeak called it a distraction to focus on the two-thirds requirement in the legislature to pass a budget or a tax hike.

“I don’t want ot get to a bad budget faster,” she said.

Instead, McPeak said she would shift the state’s full attention to growing the economy as a means to restore public funds in conjunction with a full analysis of existing state programs’ effectiveness.

Willie Brown

Willie Brown

Former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown’s reform ideas included an end to term limits and called it absurd that the two-thirds voting requirements have been imposed by a majority vote given the fact that these rules would never receive a two-thirds vote.

As for campaign finance, he called for a repeal of much of what he referred to as “so-called” reforms.

“In my time in public office, there were no such things as independent expenditures, he said. ” I was the independent expenditure. The public is entitled ot know who gave money and how much and how it was spent. These modern campaign reforms are bullshit. It conceals what is really happening and never really know the source of the money.”

Click through to next page for recommendations offered by anothe speaker, former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, January 29th, 2009
Under: California budget, California Legislature, campaign finance, Election reform, General | No Comments »

CGS recommends initiative reforms

The Center for Governmental Studies, led by the highly capable Bob Stern, has written a very interesting editorial published in the Los Angeles Times about recommended reforms of California’s initiative process.

I recommend reading this editorial. Here are the first few paragraphs:

By Robert M. Stern and Tracy Westen
November 10, 2008

Here are some things you should know about ballot initiatives in California.

In all of the 1960s, there were only nine statewide initiatives placed on the ballot. In the 1970s, that number rose to 22. In the 1980s, Californians were asked to vote on 46; then, in the 1990s, it climbed to 61. So far in this decade, there already have been 63 — and there’s still a year to go, with a possible special election in June.

That’s a record every decade — and a sevenfold increase over 50 years.

Here’s something else: Supporters and opponents of these initiatives are spending more and more money to ensure that their side wins: $9 million in 1976, $127 million in 1978 (the year of Proposition 13), $140 million in 1996, $280 million in 2004 and $330 million in 2006 — a 37-fold increase in 30 years.

This money comes from individuals, corporations and unions, but increasingly it comes in large chunks — very large chunks. In the 1990 elections, for example, one-third of all contributions for initiatives were given in amounts of $1 million or more. In 2006, it jumped from one-third to two-thirds. One person — real estate heir and Hollywood producer Stephen Bing — gave more than $46 million of his own money to support the (unsuccessful) 2006 initiative to impose oil depletion taxes.

Posted on Friday, November 14th, 2008
Under: ballot measures, Election reform | No Comments »

Heavy demand slowed state election computers

Capitol Weekly just posted this great explanation about why the Secretary of State’s election web site was almost useless on election night: Click here for the story.

Posted on Friday, November 7th, 2008
Under: 2008 November election, 2008 presidential election, Election reform | No Comments »

Gerber inspires ‘Do Not Call’ complaint

GOP congressional candidate Nick Gerber

GOP congressional candidate Nick Gerber

GOP congressional candidate Nick Gerber of Moraga apparently didn’t get that memo about California’s largely unenforced ban on robocalls.

Someone filed a complaint online with the National Political Do Not Contact Registry — which has no legal standing — about two automated campaign calls he or she received from Gerber.

“Found his website and sent e-mail to his wife,” the unnamed person wrote. “(I) said I was reporting them to Do Not Call.”

The unhappy resident also wrote, “Stop this jerk. I’m going to look up who he’s running against and if the person is liberal, make a donation to keep this fool out of office!”

Gerber is running in District 10 against incumbent Rep. Ellen Tauscher.

As this resident has probably already figured out, Do Not Call does not care — it regulates commercial, not political calls.

In fact, given the popularity of political robocalls and the threat of a major legal fight over free speech, Gerber’s wife may be this aggrieved resident’s most sympathetic ear.

Read more for the full complaint form as forwarded to me from Sean Dakin, the registry founder: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, September 12th, 2008
Under: 2008 November election, Election reform | No Comments »

Should Election Day be a holiday?

Coming soon to a department store parking lot near you is a new initiative petition that would make Election Day a state holiday.

Proponents argue that such a holiday would improve turn-out. Voters could freely show up at their precincts without the hassle of leaving home early or getting out of the office in time to vote.

Sounds good to me. I’m heartily in favor of anything that boosts voter turn-out and gives me a day off at the same time. Oh, wait, I guess I would be working anyway.

Read more for the press release from the Secretary of State on the initiative: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, August 5th, 2008
Under: Election reform, Propositions | 3 Comments »

Record percentage of voters choose mail in June

The pitiful turnout in the California June primary election produced at least one notable statistic: The highest percentage of voters on record cast their ballots by mail rather than at the polls.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified the election results and reported a 58.7 percent vote-by-mail rate, which topped the previous record of 46.9 percent in June 2006.

The growing numbers of voters who cast their ballots through the mail is raising questions about the increasing cost of funding two elections, one at the polls and one through the mail. It is also dramatically changing campaign dynamics as candidates must find ways to put out their messages to a bifurcated audience.

Here’s Bowen press release: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, July 14th, 2008
Under: 2008 June primary, Election 2008, Election reform | 4 Comments »

Reformists urge ballot initiative upgrades

The Center for Government Studies has released a new report calling for significant reforms to California’s nearly 100-year-old ballot initiative system.

Adopted by voters in 1911, the ballot initiative process allowed citizens to bypass the influence of special interest money on state legislators and place new laws on the ballot for voter consideration. But in the past decade, more money has been spent to promote or oppose ballot measures than on lobbying, say Center for Governmental Studies public policy experts Tracy Westen and Bob Stern.

Recommendations include provisions that would allow initiative proponents to bring proposed laws first to the Legislature and establish a more flexible system for amendments both before and after passage. The center also calls for any initiative that establishes a two-thirds vote requirement for passage of future policies to also pass by a two-thirds margin rather than a majority.

“We believe these reforms would result in a 15 to 20 percent drop in the number of initiatives and result in better drafted initiatives for voters,” Stern said in a meeting this afternoon with the Contra Times Times editorial board.

Stern and Westen say they will seek more input and eventually boil down the roughly 40 recommendations into … what else? … a ballot initiative for 2010.

Click here to read the report and the full set of recommendations.

Posted on Thursday, July 10th, 2008
Under: ballot measures, Election reform | No Comments »