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"Davisites join effort to reform government"

By Jeff Hudson | Enterprise staff writer | February 26, 2009

[Re-posted with the permission of The Davis Enterprise.]

SACRAMENTO - An assortment of current and former elected officials, political interest advocates and education activists gathered Tuesday for a summit meeting to discuss overhauling the structure of state government by convening a constitutional convention for the first time in more than 100 years.

Several politically connected Davis residents attended the session.

The idea of a constitutional convention is being advanced by the Bay Area Council, a business group led by CEO and President Jim Wunderman. He spoke of the frustration that businesses feel with political gridlock in Sacramento, which has affected education, energy policy and transportation, among other issues.

A constitutional convention could rewrite the constitution, eliminating the two-thirds majority requirement for passing a state budget - a sore point after the protracted delays with the state budget this year, as negotiations and votes dragged from June into January.

A revised constitution might (conceivably) abolish the current two-house Legislature, and replace it with a single-house system with representatives coming from more numerous, smaller districts.

The existing term limit system - six years in the Assembly, eight years in the Senate - also might be revised.

One speaker even suggested abolishing the state's 58 counties in favor of a new framework of regional government.

Any changes worked up during a constitutional convention would need to be approved by voters before taking effect.

The last time California held a constitutional convention was in 1879, so the process is both rusty and unfamiliar to present-day Californians. Under existing law, only the Legislature can call a constitutional convention. So the first move likely would be a ballot measure amending the state constitution, allowing voters to schedule a constitutional convention on their own. Then, a second ballot measure would be needed to formally call the constitutional convention.

Participants at Tuesday's session - held at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, before a capacity audience - grappled with questions about process - would the convention participants be elected, or picked in a 'jury pool'-type method, or selected through some other method?

Several participants noted Tuesday's crowd was mostly white, and mostly from Northern California - as compared with the broader ethnic mix that now collectively comprises the majority of California's diverse population.

Davis residents on hand included former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, Davis Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor, Davis Board of Education member Susan Lovenburg and Yolo County Board of Education member Davis Campbell.

Eastin told The Enterprise that while she finds the idea of a constitutional convention appealing, 'they have a tough sell ahead of them' because 'it's easy to run a negative campaign' designed to raise doubts in the minds of voters. She added that she doesn't like the idea of a one-house Legislature.

Saylor said he was 'impressed by the urgency among the participants and presenters' at Tuesday's event. 'There was a shared sense that California's governing structure is in drastic need of an overhaul.' But he added that the constitutional convention process 'is complex ... who would participate, how would the discussion proceed? We ought to be cautious.'

Saylor, a former Davis school board member, is participating in a local group called Davis Advocacy and Response Team, which is likewise interested in systemic reforms of government.

'We're discussing holding a community workshop in Davis in April; there will be more information coming about that,' he said.

Campbell, a former executive director of the California School Boards Association, said 'I thought the summit was very thought-provoking. There can be no question that our current state governance system is broken. Although the scope (of a constitutional convention) is huge, there was a sense of opportunity from the people there at the summit.'

A convention might 'streamline the state constitution and frame a new governmental structure,' Campbell said, which could present 'a real opportunity' for change.

Lovenburg said local parents who are worried about state cuts for education face a choice.

'Rather than fight with equally worthy programs for diminishing resources, we are joining together (in DART) with others in the city and county to advocate for reforms that will give us government responsive to the needs of the whole community,' she said. 'We are exploring the very real possibilities presented by a constitutional convention.'

-Reach Jeff Hudson at or (530) 747-8055. Comment on this story at

Ideas for reforming government

More than 300 people gathered for the California Constitutional Convention Summit in Sacramento on Tuesday to debate a wholesale restructuring of state government, which could include rewriting the state Constitution.

The suggestions included:

* End the two-thirds majority requirement to pass a state budget or approve new taxes.

* Abolish the initiative process.

* Ask California voters every 10 years whether to authorize a constitutional convention to review the state's governing document.

* End or extend term limits for legislators.

* Reduce the size of electoral districts so lawmakers represent fewer constituents.

* Merge the Assembly and Senate into one 120-member body.

* Dump the winner-take-all election system in favor of a parliamentary or coalition system.

* Scrap the two-party system.

* Eliminate counties and their governments.

* Operate the state on a two-year budget cycle.

* Allow voters to register on Election Day, automatically register when they renew their driver's license or pre-register all 16- and 17-year-olds.

* Allow the Legislature to work with initiative proponents to either take up their measures as legislation or rewrite them.

* Require initiative proponents to have an identified funding source for their ballot measures.

* Allow initiative campaigns to gather signatures online.

* List all the supporters and opponents of initiatives in the voter guide, and group similar or competing initiatives together.

- The Associated Press

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