9 thoughts on “Repairing California

  1. I am very ambivalent about part of this campaign. I support the proposed change to the state constitution to allow the voters to call constitutional conventions (the first of the two ballot measures now in circulation). I support calling a convention now, as the second ballot measure would do. Given the wording of this call in particular, it would be hard for such a convention to ignore proportional representation altogether.

    But — and this is a huge but — the delegate selection method loads the dice against real reform and even against serious consideration of real reform. This is in spite of a heroic effort on the part some very good people to shape the delegate selection process.

    First, about half of the delegates would be selected by city and county politicians. There’s a theory behind this, roughly to the effect that these officeholders have an interest in reforming Sacramento because local government is so severely damaged by California’s current revenue-sharing arrangements. (I forget exactly how the theory is worded; I may have it wrong.) But these folks are also the political class, just the secondary ranks of it. They are not, absolutely not, going to choose innovators of any stripe.

    Selection of the remaining delegates would begin with a jury pool, randomly selected just like a Citizens Assembly. So far, so good — very good. But the final selection would by vote of the jury pool members from among their own number — voting (by a poorly defined method) on people they only know through one or two days of meetings. I can’t see how this is going result in a convention with the virtues of the B.C. and Ontario Citizens’ Assemblies.

    Finally, there is the very thorny problem of excluding social issues from the call and limiting the convention to governance. As an electoral reform advocate, I want to support that. But as a citizen and a democratic socialist I have a real problem with calling a convention that is not supposed to touch Prop. 8. Never mind the argument that such restrictions on the scope of a convention wouldn’t be enforced by the courts anyway (Repair California did what could be done to make limitations on the scope enforceable, which might not be enough).

    Discussion, please. Read the ballot measures carefully and help me decide whether to support the second one in spite of its faults. (I will definitely support the first.) There are risks on both sides. There is a serious risk that a convention stacked against making the governance decisions that really need to be made would be a step backwards. But this may be the only state convention call we get for a very long time.

  2. Update on the rationale for having the appointed delegates be chosen by local office holders: in addition to the point made above about local government being hurt by current constitutional constraints, the backers also believe that local officials are held in higher regard by the electorate than state legislators and statewide officers. The reasoning appears to be that state government is held in such low esteem that this must be the case.

  3. That’s a really sad reason for choosing a particular delegate selection method. We want these reforms so we’ve rigged the selection method to choose delegates who support these reforms? I shudder to think about the attack ads that will be run against this. If the proposition is to have any hope of success they need a selection method that is fair.

  4. I certainly share Alan’s indignation (“we want these reforms so we’ve rigged the selection method”), but I’m not sure this will be the basis of the attack ads. People will not perceive it as unfair in general; they will perceive it as favorable or unfavorable to their interests. Since the selection method is pretty complicated, many will not know what to think of it and therefore may vote based on fearing the worst from it.

    The broader question is whether the odds of getting something of value out of a convention chosen in this way are better or worse than the odds of getting a better convention call on the ballot (and passed!) in 2011 or 2012. Such questions about probabilities are never easy to answer and I’m finding this one especially difficult.

    In considering this question, remember that (1) if a convention is convened as a result of a successful ballot measure, another call cannot be put on the ballot for ten years — no matter how badly the convention performs. Also, (2) getting a convention call on the ballot takes 500,000 valid signatures, which means collecting around 700,000. It’s easy if you have both money and support within one of the big parties, nearly impossible otherwise.

  5. Yesterday was election day in Texas, and I voted. And I voted. And then I voted some more. If my count was correct, I voted fifty-two times. I voted for Governor, and I voted for U.S. House and Texas House and Texas Senate…OK, I didn’t actually know the candidates for the state legislature, by I did feel a bit guilty about that. I voted for Lt. Governor (which is a big deal here in Texas). I voted for Attorney General, and Commissioner of the General Land Office, and Commissioner of Agriculture, and Railroad Commissioner. I don’t know what the General Land Office is, no. I voted for judges — judicial judges, and the county judge, who is the head of the county government, not a judicial judge at all. I voted for more real judges. We know someone who is running for “Judge, County Probate Court No. 2.” I voted for her. I voted for District Clerk. I don’t know what kind of district the District Clerk is clerk for. I’m pretty sure it’s not pronounced the British way, though. I voted for party chair…actually, Party Chairman, although I voted for a woman, but what do I know?

    Fifty-two times.

    There are democratic nations in which you can vote every time they let you, and you might not reach fifty-two marks on a paper your whole life…

    Jonathan Bernstein at The Atlantic

    (via Alex Massie at The Spectator).

  6. Basically, they are saying that we vote for too many positions in the U.S. We have too many choices, and too many layers of government that need to be abolished and consolidated.

    Is the U.S the only country in the World that allows voters to elected judges? Is this a good thing? Nobody even knows who the judges are, and I know that when I vote, I just do a donkey vote, who has time to get to know all the judges.

    The primary system seems to be a relic from the progressive era, and seems to be have less relevance today now that most voters decline to state a party, and don’t even bother to vote in a party primary which makes the parties more extreme. The primary system allows for some sort of internal party democracy, and that is good, but it offers nothing to a voter that chooses not to be a member of any party until after the primary election.

  7. Suaprazzodi, it is not accurate to say that “most voters [in the U.S.] decline to state a party”. In California, the number is about 22%, which may be a little higher than average. Not all states have voter registration by party.

    On the other hand, it is true that fewer people vote in primary elections than in general elections. But what excludes centrist (“independent”) voters from the process of nominating candidates is not the system of partisan primaries. It’s the two-party system — including winner-take-all election rules — which prevents them from forming a centrist party or parties and nominating their own candidates.

  8. I think the primary system sort of infantilized US politics.

    In the US, there are no party dues. You just declare which party you are part of when you register. Since there are no dues, by “belonging” to a party there is no chance of supporting a party advocating policies you disagree with, quite the opposite, its a viable strategy to register with a party you don’t like in order to affect (sabotage) its nominee selection process.

    This has tended to keep parties in the US to me more of clubs to get local notables elected, than to advance a particular set of policy positions. There is also a potential flaw in that the ease of registering in one of the two parties, in that they are vulnerable to takeover by an extremist group. It would be difficult for a US party to do the sort of purge Labour did with communist sympathizers in the 1930s, and with Militant Tendency in the 1980s. So far this has not been an issue with the US, but there is potential, and we may be seeing the potential realized with the teabaggers and various fundamentalist groups and the Republican Party.

    In fact we may be seeing the negative consequences of the loose registration process playing out in different ways in the US parties, the Republicans in being taken over by extremist groups, and the Democrats in not really standing for anything other than getting Democrats elected, and therefore not being able to advance an agenda when in power.

    Of course some states make the problem worse by allowing voters not registering with a particular party to vote in its primary, or to register with that party on the day of the election itself! This is somewhat linked to government subsidies to the Democrats’ and Republicans’ nominee selection processes which are one of the ways in which the American electoral system creates a barrier for other parties. The whole system is a mess, which fortunately I don’t think any other country has tried to imitate.

    If you advocate a position that doesn’t quite fit into the Democratic or Republican framework, it is much easier in the US to run in the primaries of one of the two parties, and hope to get elected as their nominee, than to run as a minor party or independent candidate. So this system acts as another barrier to political pluralism in the US, which never developed the system of many parties with somewhat coherent ideologies that prevails in other countries. It is still very much an eighteenth century system.

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