Government Reform Coalition Submits Measures to Call California Constitutional Convention
Would Be the First Convention in More Than 130 Years
SACRAMENTO, Calif.--Today, Repair California, a group of everyday Californians, reformers and advocacy groups, 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 a better system of governance, and this one is a failure,” said Jim Wunderman, the President and CEO of the Bay Area Council and a member of Repair California. “California has become the laughing stock of the country, but the damage our state government is causing to our education system, prisons, water, budgeting, local governments and economy isn’t funny, it’s tragic. There has to be a better way, and as we look at 49 other states we realize that there can be a better way. Since the legislature is unable to act and our initiative system has been hijacked, the only way to reform our state is through a Constitutional Convention.”
The two measures would call a limited convention to consider changes only to the state’s governance system. In a first-of-its-kind approach, the proposed Convention would gather 240 everyday Californians – three per Assembly District – four delegates from federally recognized Indian tribes, and approximately 221 delegates appointed by local government leaders from cities, counties and school districts to consider reforms.
“We don’t fear the people, we celebrate them with this Convention,” said Antonio Gonzalez, President of the William C. Velasquez Institute. “We believe the people of California should be involved in any effort to improve the Golden State, especially determining our foundational values and system of governance. This Convention is set up to mix the values of everyday Californians with experts appointed by local government leaders to produce reforms our state needs and voters will approve.”
Bob Stern, President of the Center for Governmental Studies, noted, “Almost 100 years after Hiram Johnson, California’s ‘reform governor,’ and the ‘Progressives’ made sweeping changes to our state’s Constitution, California now has an opportunity to modernize it for the 21st Century. Although many important reform measures may be on the ballot, the proposals for a Constitutional Convention may be the most significant. If passed, they will make 2010 the ‘year of reform.’”
In a poll of 1000 registered California voters, conducted by EMC Research, with a margin of error of 3.1 percent, Californians appear ready to approve the two measures to call the Convention. After explaining basic details of the proposal, such as who could serve as delegates and what issues would or would not be considered, more than two-thirds of Californians (69 percent) would vote yes on “Proposition 1,” which would allow the voters of California to directly call a Convention. A similar supermajority of 71 percent would vote yes on “Proposition 2,” which would immediately call a limited Constitutional Convention to propose reforms to the state’s governance structure. Both measures only require a simple majority of 50 percent of voters to win on Election Day.
The measures are supported by 70 percent of registered Republicans, 71 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of decline to state voters. In age groups, support is highest among young 18-34 year-old voters with 73 percent reporting they would vote yes, but 71 percent of those 55 years-old or higher would also approve the measures. Turnout is often considered a key political factor for ballot measures, but the Constitutional Convention measures are strong with low propensity voters (71 percent) and with high propensity voters (70 percent). Support for the Constitutional Convention is particularly high with Latino voters (80 percent). The poll was conducted September 8-13, 2009.
“Our current California Constitution doesn’t just enshrine a broken governance system, its foundation was constructed with some shameful building blocks,” said James Fang, President of Asian Week Newspaper and Vice President of BART. “It included provisions that ‘No native of China’ would ever have the right to vote, and prohibited public bodies from employing Chinese. That past needs to be firmly behind us and I am very pleased that this Convention is set up to celebrate and embrace California’s diversity.”
To draft the ballot measures, and ensure they reflected the sentiments of the state, Repair California held a series of Town Halls often attended by hundreds of people at sites in Los Angeles, San Diego, Alameda, San Francisco, Irvine, Santa Monica, Fresno, the Sierra Nevadas, Silicon Valley and Orange County. The movement also heard from thousands of others through Web 2.0 technologies. Finally, Repair California consulted with experts, historians and lawyers, and other experienced leaders who often offered their assistance pro bono.
“While perfect is not possible in any endeavor, we are very proud with what we have come up with,” said Wunderman. “Now it is time to let the people speak.”