Constitutional craze

It’s summer, California is going down the tubes and suddenly everybody has their own ballot measure to save our state.

A couple weeks back, SN&R printed a big spread about proposals by groups like Repair California and California Forward to fix the state’s constitution and its broken governance system (see “California renovation,” SN&R Feature, June 18).

These are well-funded, well-known and generally mainstream groups with a lot of clout, and they’ve already made waves. But there’s a wave of efforts by other groups and by individual citizens that aren’t getting nearly the same attention.

There are right now two different initiatives in circulation that would remove the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a state budget. There is also a proposed initiative to change the vote requirement to three-fifths pending at the state attorney general’s office.

Another potential ballot measure at the A.G.’s office is being pushed by the conservative Citizens for California Reform. That initiative, the Citizen Legislature Act, would make the job of state lawmaker a part-time gig. Spokesman Tom Kise told Bites that the problem is legislators have too much time on their hands, time to introduce “frivolous” bills, instead of really fixing the state’s problems. “They’re introducing legislation just to introduce legislation. There’s no reason to be debating legislation about feng shui buildings or the blueberry commission while the state is burning down.”

Bites pointed out there are already limits on the number of bills lawmakers can introduce, and it would probably be easier just to cut back their bill allowance, thus forcing them to spend more time on the important, nonblueberry-related stuff. After all, the initiative says nothing about legislator pay, so they might as well put in the hours and earn their keep, right? But then, of course, some consultants wouldn’t get paid to run the Citizen Legislature Act campaign.

Bites already wrote in this space about the proposed ballot measure to make lawmakers take drug tests (see “They must be high,” June 11). In a similar vein comes the Honor in Office Act, filed by Jerrol LeBaron, of Tujunga. LeBaron’s slice of California reform casserole would amend the constitution to require legislators to—gasp—actually read the bills before voting on them. What!? That’s just un-American, Monsieur LeBaron.

Finally, there are two initiatives by Paul Currier, of San Francisco, that would establish a constitutional convention in California. Currier’s approach is very different than that of Repair California in that he would have citizens elect five delegates in every Assembly district (80 districts, 400 delegates in all) to pop the hood and rebuild the constitution. The new constitution would be ratified (or rejected) by voters within 90 days of the convention.

These delegate elections would be publicly financed under Currier’s scheme, with $200,000 in public money available to each and every candidate who qualifies—which includes gathering 1,000 signatures. Candidates wouldn’t be able to fundraise or spend their own money on campaigns, but independent expenditure committees would still be able to pump unlimited amounts of money into the elections. That lets in the corporations, the unions and political parties. In other words, the people who got us into this mess would have their paws all over the constitutional convention from the get-go. Bites asked Currier if we wouldn’t be better off with something like what Repair California is looking at. Why not avoid the tainted political process and select people randomly, like we do with jury service, to serve as delegates? Or come up with another method for gathering together academics and people with serious expertise.

But Currier wasn’t having it. “Or we could just have the clergy appoint them, like they do in Iran. Sorry, that’s not how we do things in California.”

No, it really isn’t, is it?