- 2012elections - 9/11 Special Coverage - aca - africanamericanalzheimers - aids - Alabama News Network - american - Awards & Expo - bees - bilingual - border - californiaeducation - Caribbean - cir - citizenship - climatechange - collgeinmiami - community - democrats - ecotourism - Elders - Election 2012 - elections2012 - escuelas - Ethnic Media in the News - Ethnicities - Events - Eye on Egypt - Fellowships - food - Foreclosures - Growing Up Poor in the Bay Area - Health Care Reform - healthyhungerfreekids - howtodie - humiliating - immigrants - Inside the Shadow Economy - kimjongun - Latin America - Law & Justice - Living - Media - memphismediaroundtable - Multimedia - NAM en Espaol - Politics & Governance - Religion - Richmond Pulse - Science & Technology - Sports - The Movement to Expand Health Care Access - Video - Voter Suppression - War & Conflict - 攔截盤查政策 - Top Stories - Immigration - Health - Economy - Education - Environment - Ethnic Media Headlines - International Affairs - NAM en Español - Occupy Protests - Youth Culture - Collaborative Reporting

A Constitutional Approach to Fixing California

New America Media, News Report, Annette Fuentes Posted: Oct 05, 2009

Editor's Note: California, once seen as a land of opportunity and destination for immigrants, is now facing its own economic and political troubles. In order to prevent California from becoming what one economist called the first failed state in America, business groups are proposing a constitutional convention to fix the budgetary gridlock in Sacramento. But some are concerned that Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans -- who, together, constitute a majority of the states population -- could be left out of the process and may not see the results.

Jim Wunderman was on a roll, his withering critique of Californias state government and dire economic straits reaching a crescendo before an audience of 100-plus at the Alameda County Administrative Building on Sept. 17.

Its a bad dream. Its a nightmare. This is not a trend that can continue, said the president of the Bay Area Council, an association of business groups. The legislature is a system in paralysis. If you walk the halls of the Capitol, you can feel it. Its become an international laughing stock.

Wunderman was the first speaker at a forum organized by Alameda supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty and the Bay Area Council. Wundermans group is spearheading a proposal to call a constitutional convention in order to revise sections of the states guiding document relating to governance. The goal, according to supporters, is to reform areas that they say keep Sacramento gridlocked and the states budget along with it. Among their key targets are the state-local government funding relationships, the budgeting process that requires a two-thirds majority for approval and reforms to the electoral process, including term limits, campaign finance and the emphasis on ballot initiatives that is rampant in California.

Our governance structure is badly damaged and creates perverse incentives to legislators, said Corey Cook, a University of San Francisco political scientist who testified at the forum. Our budget is so badly broken that the only thing worse than the long delays is what happens when delays are over.

There are few in the Golden State who would disagree with the sentiments of the speakers who testified that day. BACs offshoot, Repair California, has been organizing similar forums throughout the state to hype the idea of a constitutional convention, or a Con-Con, as insiders call it. So far, there have also been few voices challenging the proposal. Repair California has been crafting the language for two ballot initiatives to place before voters in November 2010. One would grant voters the right to call a constitutional convention; the other would call the convention. The group fell behind on its Sept. 25 deadline to deliver its proposal to Attorney General Jerry Brown and now is aiming for late October.

But there are many who have been watching the Con-Con movement with caution. Many are Latino, Asian and African-American policy experts and advocates who are concerned about a critical aspect of such a major, statewide political event. They want to know who will participate in this historic convention. How will delegates be picked, and will they represent the face of the new California -- not the one that existed 130 years ago when the last constitutional convention was called.

For minority communities, it is all about the delegate selection process. That is a biggest sticking point for communities, said Stephen Ochoa, policy vice president at the Los Angeles office of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a Latino think-tank. In general, they are progressive enough that they want to see reform. But making sure that minorities are represented is major. If a group thinks they are not going to be, that will increase the likelihood of opposition.

Ochoa said that the institute is a member of the Repair California coalition because it supports the goal of reforming the states governance system. Latinos, he said, are suffering the worst of the systemic dysfunction. But he has also been reaching out to Asian and African-American organizations to insure inclusion. Ochoa said he is in dialogue with a handful of African-American leaders who are not yet willing to go public until they know what the delegate selection process will be. And some organizations have more immediate battles to wage. One of the other reasons minority groups arent involved is that they are fighting many issues, Ochoa said.

Concerns about inclusion and diversity in such a major political undertaking are understandable. The leadership behind the Con-Con is almost uniformly white and male, with Wunderman and Repair California director John Grubb as the most visible faces. Other coalition members include the Courage Campaign and Common Cause. With California now a majority-minority state, it is difficult to fathom a political movement that is not representative of the population achieving meaningful reforms. If Asian, black and Latino groups are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see guarantees of diversity in the delegate selection process, they miss an opportunity to shape the discussion.

Its really important for communities of color to get involved now. What happens could affect public policy for the whole state and how it is governed, said Gautam Dutta, deputy director for political reform at the New America Foundation. Everyone must have place at the table. Dutta is also the volunteer executive director of the Asian American Action Fund in Los Angeles, which strongly supports the call for a constitutional convention, he said. He said that the Bay Area Council seriously cares that everyone is represented in convention.

There are several approaches to choosing delegates, who could number from 400 to 480. They could be appointed or chosen through a random selection process, using various public records such as tax and motor vehicle records, as well as voter registration records for the widest mix. We can come up with a sample and then make sure that is representative by socioeconomic levels -- not just completely random, said Steven Hill, director of the political reform program for the New America Foundation. If a constitutional convention is going to have any credibility, it has to be representative of the people of California.

Delegates would meet over the course of many months, perhaps nearly a year, to hear expert testimony on solutions and alternatives to the current systems of budget making, elections and state-local relationships. They would come up with a slate of proposals for reform that would then be put before all California voters for approval.

Hill said that the lack of diversity in the leadership of the con-con movement did not signal a lack of commitment to diversity in the delegate assembly. The people who initiated this are as upset as anyone else at what is going on in California, he said. They have made attempts to include diversity in meetings and among speakers. But it was initiated with a group of white business people. Ive been impressed. These are not just business people. They are California business people and know diversity.

Angela Sanbrano, board member of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities in Los Angeles, attended a meeting called by the William C. Velasquez Institute two months ago to discuss the con-con. It was at the height of the states budgetary gridlock, and she is convinced that a constitutional convention is the way to lasting reform -- if done correctly. But she is not convinced that the organizers are doing all they can to engage diverse groups.

I dont think there has been enough outreach. There has to be dialogue and discussion, Sanbrano said. William C. Velasquez took the initiative to call a meeting, that is what they do. But the BAC needs to be concerned if its going to be a real effort to do something representative and address concerns of citizens and residents of California.

Sanbrano echoed the concern that most Californians dont see a political process as touching their lives. When people hear constitutional convention, it is very abstract. Most people are concerned about how theyll keep their job, how theyre going to send kids to school, very immediate issues. They dont see the larger picture in how the dysfunction of government affects them. We dont have these types of discussion in the media. We need grassroots education, town halls like the one we had in L.A. We had 150 people. We need hundreds of those in all communities. It takes resources.

Related Articles:

California EconoTalk

Puncturing Old Myths About Californias Budget Woes

Out of Cash, California Turns to IOUs

Page 1 of 1




Just Posted

NAM Coverage

Civil Liberties

Why There Are Words

Aug 10, 2011