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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.

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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.

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Gavin Newsom launches online campaign ad

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign today launched the first video ad of the 2010 Democratic primary race, a 60-second spot urging a constitutional convention to overhaul how the state governs itself.

“It’s time for a new direction in California. For too long, Californians have been victim to a broken system that leads to stalemate year in and year out,” Newsom said in his news release. “It’s time for real reform in Sacramento, reform that will put our state back on the path to opportunity and prosperity. A constitutional convention is the first step toward this larger goal.”

It could be an effective message for a campaign predicated on representing youthful vigor and change, setting itself apart from that of Attorney General and former two-term governor Jerry Brown – out with the old, in with the new, and all that. It even avoids mentioning Brown’s name. Then again, Newsom risks sending a message to voters that he’s not prepared to govern unless California radically reworks Sacramento’s rules; whether or not our system is inherently broken, voters may or may not latch onto the “I can be a great governor if…” meme.

The campaign says this spot is the first in a series to be released over the next two months, reaching more than half a million California Democratic primary voters via email, Facebook, and Twitter. And it’s to be followed by an online policy “wiki” incorporating voters’ input, as well as online organizing drive.