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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.

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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.

Continue Reading

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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.

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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: Continue Reading

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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: Continue Reading