Repair California

Nobody has commented yet on Repair California’s efforts to get referenda on the ballot calling for a state constitutional convention. It may be a bit late to start a discussion on the topic, given that those efforts appear to have fallen apart. But due to the connection with sortition, it might be worth a bit of our attention.

Repair California’s proposal would have selected a constitutional convention partially by lot. A large number of delegates to the convention would be elected by assembly district-level meetings of randomly-selected citizens. That’s complicated enough, but that’s only the procedure for selecting some of the delegates; others would be appointed by elected officials and by Indian tribes.

Ultimately, I think the complexity of the scheme has worked against Repair California. I gather that one of the reasons for going for something so complex–instead of, say, a randomly-selected constitutional convention, as proposed by Joel Parker–was a desire to be “realistic” and not too “radical.” But being radical can be very reasonable if it allows you to express and defend a clearly principled solution to a problem. Repair California’s scheme is so complicated that it’s really hard to say, this is why the proposal is good for democracy. And so being “realistic” can actually lead to nothing getting done.

A related note gets struck by this article–

http://foxandhoundsdaily.com/blog/john-wildermuth/6453-vague-promises-not-enough-convention-plan

It notes the difficulty in putting forth a convention plan without any clear sense of just what that convention might do, or what problem it might solve. After all, just because all Californians agree that the “system” is broken, it doesn’t mean they agree as to WHY it’s broken. If you try very hard not to take a stand on this question, the end result is that it’s hard to get anyone excited about inducing change. The same is true if you try too hard to keep the plan “safe” (again, being “realistic”). California’s fiscal woes stem in large part from Proposition 13’s tax restrictions, but Repair California’s constitutional convention would be unable to list Proposition 13 entirely, although it could tinker with it around the edges. This was done because Proposition 13 is regarded as politically dangerous–too many elderly people with absurdly low property taxes ready to defend it–but as a result it’s hard to get people excited who think Proposition 13 is a major part of the problem.

One more comment–there’s still a movement to get a proposition on the ballot lifting the 2/3 majority rule for the state budgetary process. That, IMHO, would go a huge way towards making California less of a fiscal train wreck. It’s well worth supporting.

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2 Responses

  1. I suspect that the proposed delegate selection process is so complicated because it was arrived through multi-way negotiations among various interest groups. Probably none of them are infatuated with result but it is something that many people could live with. I do know that Repair California has made strenuous efforts to get broad support.

    That said, I agree with you that the complexity of the proposal became a barrier to its adoption.

    I believe that the quasi-sortition half of the delegate selection is severely compromised. In each district, the randomly selected citizens would act as a kind of electoral college, that would choose a number (five, if I remember correctly) of its own members after one or two days of deliberation. I can’t imagine how they could vote intelligently on the basis of these brief impressions. I would worry about ending up with too many white males.

    There are other issues surrounding selection of the rest of the delegates by local elected officials, but they are not directly relevant to this blog.

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  2. Considering that this was an elite effort, it would have been surprising if sortition would have been employed in a meaningful way.

    One more comment–there’s still a movement to get a proposition on the ballot lifting the 2/3 majority rule for the state budgetary process. That, IMHO, would go a huge way towards making California less of a fiscal train wreck. It’s well worth supporting.

    As a matter of gauging public attitude toward the electoral system, it is interesting to see whether a majority of Californians would be willing to show enough confidence in their elected officials as to unbind them from the supermajority rule.

    It is not clear to me at all, by the way, that this rule or Prop. 13 are really to blame for the California deficit. It turns out, for example, that the tax burden in California is very similar to that of other states.

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