By Dan Walters | Columnist | The Sacramento Bee
●●smf’s 2¢: C’mon Dan! Quick fixes are the problem …hard, difficult, challenging work is the solution – even Democrats can figure that out! If it was easy the politicians, media types and academic circum-interlocutors would’ve done it already.
Sunday, 14 Dec 2008 -- Political, media and academic circles have heard more buzz about a state constitutional convention in the past three months than in the past three decades, reflecting growing concern about political dysfunction that the perpetual budget deficit crisis has laid bare.
According to poll after poll, Californians are disgusted with the Legislature and only slightly less so with a governor who was elected five years ago on a pledge to close the budget deficit and make state government work, but who has utterly failed on both counts.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's failure has driven home to many a realization that California's system of governance is unworkable and that merely changing the name on the governor's Capitol office or switching legislators doesn't solve the problem.
The Bay Area Council, a consortium of business leaders, got the ball rolling, but now it seems everyone in and around politics is talking about convening the first constitutional convention since 1878 to overhaul our governmental structure.
Constitutionally, it may be the only way to do it since only the Legislature and a constitutional convention could propose a "revision" of the constitution, and the Legislature is incapable of mustering a two-thirds vote for fundamental change.
Initiative measures, placed on the ballot by petition, can propose only "amendments." Fundamentally, however, a constitutional convention is only a process, not a product. And there isn't even any agreement on the process – how many delegates would be selected, how they would be chosen and how they would go about their work.
The state constitution is silent on those issues, leaving it to an ideologically polarized Legislature to set the ground rules with a two-thirds vote required.
Some legislation calling for a convention or setting forth its procedures has already been introduced, which is a clue to the pitfalls of the process. If the Legislature is incapable of dealing with California's burning political issues, including the budget, how could we expect it to agree on how a constitutional convention would work – especially the partisan or ideological makeup of convention delegates?
Democrats would want a convention likely to embrace removing impediments to raising taxes, for instance, by containing a strong majority of their colleagues, while Republicans wouldn't go along with that – thus mirroring their essential conflict over the budget.
Moreover, even if legislators, by some miracle, were to agree on operational details of such a convention, and voters were to give it their blessing, delegates would still reflect the essential conflicts that already beset the Capitol, stemming from California's infinitely cultural, economic and geographic complexity. Thus, they could find themselves in the same political gridlock as the Legislature.
A constitutional convention may be California's best hope for civic salvation, but it doesn't come with a guarantee.