As you may have heard, the movement for a California constitutional convention officially died at 11:30am February 12, 2010, a Friday. It’s been one heckuva roller coaster, and we gave it all we had. More on this soon…
California is facing a crisis. Our state’s broken governance system has left us with a $20 billion debt and facing down the possibility of bankruptcy. Repairing California requires real action and substantive reform, like calling for a state Constitutional Convention.
This is truly a grassroots, citizen-led movement to fix our state by calling for the first Constitutional Convention in California since 1878. After years of leaving our state beholden to special interest groups and the dysfunctional initiative process, California’s Constitution has become incapable of serving the people of our state.
In order to spread our campaign’s message and generate support for this people’s movement, we will be holding our first Leadership Forum this Wednesday.
Date: February 10
Time: 6:30pm to 8:30 pm
Location: Santa Clara County Convention Center, 5001 Great American Parkway, Santa Clara in Meeting Room #209.
Members of the Convention Movement will be on hand to speak about the process of calling a state Constitutional Convention as well as address some of the major issues that have contributed to California’s decline. This is a great opportunity to come and learn more about this truly historic campaign.
We are all undoubtedly aware that California needs help to become great again. And as Californians, we want to do whatever we can to accomplish this. Our movement will take a big step on Wednesday evening and we hope to see you there.
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SAN FRANCISCO and LOS ANGELES, February 3, 2009 — Today Repair California, a group of everyday Californians, reformers, and advocacy groups demanded that signature gathering firms, their regional coordinators, and some crew chiefs, immediately cease the improper, unethical, and illegal boycott of the Constitutional Convention movement, and stop the threats, intimidation, and other dirty tricks that are interfering with California citizens’ right to collect signatures for the Convention campaign.
“We are building an organization that can survive the dirty tricks, but rather than cover up these moves to snuff out this citizens’ movement, we felt it best to expose them to sunlight,” said John Grubb, Campaign Director of Repair California. “Here lies the dark underbelly of California’s political control. It’s a very bad sign for our democracy that reminds one more of ‘Caligula’ than ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’ We need help from political leaders and everyday Californians willing to stand up and loudly say this is not right.”
Repair California has turned in ballot language to call the first Constitutional Convention in
California in more than 130 years. Citing a broken system of governance, the measures would call a limited Constitutional Convention to reform four areas of the constitution: the budget process; the election and initiative process; restoring the balance of power between the state and local governments; and, creating new systems to improve government effectiveness. The Convention is 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. Voters will decide on calling the Convention on the November 2010 ballot, the Convention would be held in 2011 and its proposed reforms would require voter approval in one of the three scheduled statewide elections in 2012.
“Californians deserve better,” said Jim Wunderman, the President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, the organization that started the Convention movement. “Our entire democracy is demeaned when the question of calling a Convention is denied a fair fight on the field of ideas before the voters.”
The letters sent today by Repair California’s attorneys at Hanson Bridgett alleges that certain signature gathering firms are engaged in conduct that violates State and Federal Antitrust law, and the Constitutional rights of Repair California and the people supporting it. The “blacklisting” of Repair California has harmed the Convention campaign by limiting and interfering with its right to engage a signature collection firm, and has resulted in a drastic increase in prices offered Repair California. A group boycott violates Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, and it is also contrary to the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et. seq, which protects California businesses and consumers from unfair and anti-competitive activities. In addition, the Convention campaign alleges that people actually or apparently acting on the signature gathering firms’ behalf are engaged in behavior intended to threaten and intimidate persons who are circulating petitions calling the Convention. Also, there is evidence of “dirty tricks” designed to thwart the Constitutional Convention petition effort. For example, persons acting on the signature gathering firms’ behalf may have thrown valid signatures away. Hanson Bridgett, lawyers for the Convention campaign, have notified those who may be responsible for such illegal activities that Repair California, and the citizens it represents, have the Constitutional right to circulate petitions to qualify an initiative for the ballot, and that any interference with this right is a basis for a lawsuit.
Few topics related to California’s state government are as sensitive as Proposition 13. Which is why it is so important for Californians to clearly understand what impact a state constitutional convention could have on the landmark initiative. So let’s be clear: The constitutional convention proposal currently under circulation would be legally prohibited from proposing any tax increase whatsoever, including those taxes related to Proposition 13.
The reason is simple. Californians have made up their minds: they are unwilling to increase their property taxes to make up for Sacramento’s shortfall. Limiting the Convention from this issue would allow it to sidestep a poison pill and focus on the critical changes our state needs to end farcical budgeting, a bloated bureaucracy, the over-concentration of power in Sacramento, and a host of other problems.
But how can we be sure that these limits aren’t simply ignored? Can a state constitutional convention be limited? The answer is a resounding yes.
Unlike federal constitutional conventions, state constitutional conventions can be successfully limited in scope, and indeed have been on many occasions throughout US history. Furthermore, the legality of such limits are backed by a clear legal tradition established by State Supreme Courts going back to the 19th century.
These opinions establish that the people, as sovereigns, are free to limit state conventions both “to” certain topics and “from” other topics. An 1874 decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that “the people have the same right to limit the powers of their [constitutional convention] delegates that they have to bound the power of their representatives.” This opinion is the prevailing one, and has been echoed in ruling after ruling from Virginia to Rhode Island, and from Kentucky to Tennessee.
Californians both want and need this convention to succeed, that’s why it’s important that the voters give the convention a laser-like focus on what issues are on-the-table and which are off-the-table. Limiting the California constitutional convention “to” governance reform, and limiting it “from” changing laws associated with marriage, abortion, capital punishment, basic freedoms, and tax increases–including those associated with Proposition 13–is to follow a rock-solid legal tradition.
The fact that it will be the voters themselves–and not an unpopular legislature–who establish these limits, further cements both their legality and their legitimacy.
That said, there are other, lesser known parts of Proposition 13 which the people deserve the opportunity to review.
One of those parts established a 2/3 supermajority threshold for tax increases. One may argue for or against raising or lowering this threshold, but what is clear to all is that our current system is broken, and this threshold is part of that system. Many liberals and conservatives agree it deserves a citizen review.
Another part of Proposition 13 centralized tax revenues in Sacramento at the expense of local government autonomy. This is bad policy for two reasons.
First, it strangles what should be one of California’s greatest strengths, its diversity, by forcing irreconcilably different regional interests into zero-sum political battles in Sacramento. Why not instead allow the state’s political, social, and economic diversity to flourish by decentralizing Sacramento, and by providing for greater regional autonomy?
Second, it has allowed the state to hide the scope of its dysfunction by skimming the coffers of responsible local governments. The recent budget meltdown has turned the skimming into an all-out raid, leading to draconian service cuts, expensive litigation, and the near-bankruptcies of several municipalities across the state.
Since this movement is about restoring the balance of power between state and local government, this centralization question absolutely must be reviewed, and that requires opening up parts of Proposition 13. Luckily, these cows are sacred to no one.
California is perhaps the most diverse, innovative, hard-working, and creative assemblage of individuals in human history. Our state is brimming with potential, yet our government is a fundamental, catastrophic, and undeniable failure.
Californians know we can do better, and this belief in California is fueling an historic movement for the state’s first constitutional convention in 130 years. The people are speaking up: they want to review this government. Let them deliberate.
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On December 22nd, California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office released the Title and Summary of the two Constitutional Convention ballot measures.
ALLOWS VOTERS TO PLACE QUESTION OF CALLING A CONSTITUTIONAL
CONVENTION ON THE BALLOT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.
Amends the Constitution to permit voters to place on the ballot the question of whether to call a convention to revise the state Constitution. Permits any ballot measure calling a convention to specify the parts of the Constitution that the convention can or cannot revise. Requires any ballot measure calling a convention to specify the process for selection of convention delegates. Repeals requirement that convention delegates be elected by voters. Permits voters to call a convention no more than once every ten years. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: No direct fiscal impact, as any effect would depend on whether and how voters used the power to call and accept the recommendations of a constitutional convention in the future. Potentially major fiscal changes in state and local governments could result.
CALLS A LIMITED CONVENTION TO PROPOSE CHANGES TO STATE
CONSTITUTION. INITIATIVE STATUTE.
Calls convention to propose changes to state Constitution related to government, state spending and budgeting, elections and lobbying. Provides that proposed changes to constitution or laws become effective only after approved by voters in statewide election. Forbids changes to taxes or fees, marriage, abortion, gambling, affirmative action, freedom of the press or religion, immigration rights, and the death penalty. Establishes rules for selecting convention delegates to reflect a diverse range of citizens. Requires selection of delegates and conduct of convention to be open and public. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: One-time increase of state government spending up to $95 million to administer a constitutional convention. Potentially major changes in state and local governments if voters approve the convention’s recommendations, including higher or lower revenues or greater or less
spending on particular public programs.
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Now what do you do?
After decades of gradual fee increases, the latest ‘deal’ struck by the UC regents to raise fees an unprecedented 32% has finally crossed the line. A world class education–essential for the success of yourself, your state, and your nation–is slipping away from California’s social contract.
Since realizing the inevitable last fall, you’ve walked-out, sat-in, and spoken-up. The outrage–real outrage–on UC, CSU, and Community College campuses is palpable. In fact, your reaction has received global media coverage. Of your massive protests last September, the UK Guardian first wrote of the “shock” it sent throughout the capitol, and then it described the students and faculty as “meaning business.”
So the die has been cast. The state of California has crossed the rubicon. Sacramento wants your education back.
What do you do?
You’ve blamed the UC Regents and the CSU Board of Trustees–suspicious of how readily they accepted the cuts and questioning of their compensation, you want answers. You’ve blamed the governor–for heaping the fallout of California’s colossal dysfunction onto the shoulders of its children, and for seeming aloof from the plight of California’s students. You’ve blamed the state legislature–for doing its best to undermine your education, and for allowing nearly every other function of the state to grind to a halt on its watch.
But something about these enemies doesn’t stick.
The regents and the trustees are only reacting to what’s coming down on them from the State Capitol, and their compensation alone doesn’t come close to closing the hole.
The Governor too is hamstrung. Even in good economic times, he and the legislature only control about 20% of the budget. The rest is ‘locked-in’ by the spending priorities and restrictions by the political movements of yesterday.
The legislature is a tempting target…but wait. Fees have increased during periods of Republican control and Democratic control; when liberals were in charge of the legislature and when conservatives were in charge; in good economic times and bad. You have every reason to believe that you will continue to receive less education for more money no matter who wins what election where or when.
No, the fee hikes, the layoffs, and the furloughs (like the IOU’s, the prisons, and the water) are bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they are certainly bigger than either the regents or the board of trustees. For this reason, you and your fellow students have been visibly frustrated trying to find the right target for your wrath, the most effective avenue for your collective action.
Should you look to Sacramento? Today, at this very moment, the Capitol exists in a state of controlled-anarchy. Every lobbying firm and every interest group scavenges whatever it can from the public body; the feast has no strategy, no master plan, and no guiding principle. The beast has shown itself capable of devouring water systems, prison systems, roads, bridges, and the social safety net, and now its hungry for the greatest university system in the history of our species. The monster cannot be tamed or captured, and its gluttony is ravaging us all.
Then it hits. The problem is Sacramento. Your enemy is Sacramento.
What do you do? When who controls the legislature or the governor’s mansion has largely ceased to matter, and when the system and all its parts has become so fundamentally committed to destroying everything you love–from your parks to your health to your education–where do you turn? Do you tinker around the edges? No. You get a new system.
Last month, a coalition of advocacy groups called Repair California, finalized and submitted two ballot measures to do just that, by calling California’s first constitutional convention in 130 years. If the measures succeed at the ballot we would be enabled to scrap the old system and build a new one, one that learns from other states and reflects the California of tomorrow. No other reform proposal offers such an opportunity, not even close.
I don’t know about you, but I refuse to accept the status quo and what it’s doing to us. It’s time for us to seize our future. California needs you. This movement needs you. Visit http://www.RepairCalifornia.org.
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AS Californians begin demanding fundamental reforms to their state government, business-as-usual hunkers for a fight.
Benjamin Franklin was said to have quipped that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result was the definition of insanity. Dr. Franklin, welcome to Sacramento. Where despite the shame, humiliation, and human suffering caused by California’s horrific budget catastrophe, proponents of doing the same thing have unleashed a campaign of fear against convening a Constitutional Convention, and in doing so have rushed to the defense of the status quo.
In a June 18 Op-Ed appearing in the Capitol Weekly, a union official representing the State Building & Construction Trades Council essentially called on Californians to fear their neighbors.
“Think about the person you know – a relative, friend, neighbor, colleague – whom you disagree with the most. That person may well be in a jury pool and could be selected. Is that the person you want spending the next several months…deciding how California should be run?”
This is not an argument against a Constitutional Convention, its an attack on the entire pantheon of American values, from trial by jury to universal suffrage.
And yet, this is only slightly more hysterical than the rationale given by a coalition of 6 taxpayer groups opposing a Constitutional Convention because of “fears that the process can and will be hijacked” by special interests, oblivious to the fact that special interests rule the entire roost right now.
While it is clear that those on the far-left and far-right fear a Constitutional Convention, and believe you should fear one too, their rationale is not so clear. For example, are they afraid that citizen guided reforms will make California’s schools the worst in the nation? They already are. Do they fear pan-generational neglect of our water infrastructure? That has already happened. Are they afraid that millions of poor children will suddenly go without healthcare? We’re already there. That our beloved state parks will close? That our prisons overflow? Done and done.
Just last week a colleague of mine gave a teary-eyed account of the real cost of the ruined California government. Driving with his two small children, they passed a elementary school weighted down with chains and shackles. The marquis read:
“Sorry, no summer school. Budget cuts. Have a great summer.”
As we approach the moment of truth, we expect the fear mongering will only increase. This is unfortunate because history teaches us that when you give citizens the responsibility to reform their government, the American people rarely disappoint.
When Illinois voters called for a Convention in 1968, delegates drafted a short document that established basic rights, established the “Home Rule” principle that gave cities and counties more control over their own resources, and created what is all-around considered to be a model constitution.
Likewise, Michigan held a Constitutional Convention in 1963 that brought it into the modern era. Hawaii alone has convened two Con Cons since 1960. All told, there have been 232 State Con Cons in US history. In each of these and other states, Constitutional Conventions are regularly debated on the merits of the moment and by the facts on the ground, not by fear, mistrust, and misinformation.
During the 1963 Michigan Con Con Wayne State teamed up with Michigan State University to produce what has since become a classic black and white documentary about American democracy. At the closing moments of “Michigan Can Lead the Way”, the narrator summarizes the experiment:
“Perfection is never an outcome of human enterprise. There had been fears the convention would be too conservative; fears that it would be too liberal; fears that it would be racked by politics…Pro-labor or pro-farmer or pro-business…Favoring the present, trapped in the past, lost in the future. The convention had been all of these, it was not an assemblage of angels. It was a convention of men and women. Taking the best it could agree on for our time and for our people…This was the process. Sometimes calm, sometimes not so calm. Either way, it was the people’s way. It was the way of a free democracy.”
For California, doing nothing and expecting different results is the worst option of all. And defending the status quo is not only scary, it’s insane.