21 Sep 2009

Weekend Discussion -- A New Constitution

NOTE: This post will stay here until Sunday night. Posts for Saturday and Sunday morning go below this post.

Dear Aguanauts,

Discussion posts allow you to discuss a topic among yourselves -- exchanging views, learning and teaching. (I only read the comments.)

If you are interested, take a moment to check out (and add to!) the last week's discussion on shoes. After that, please give us your thoughts on...

A new constitution for California. Will that fix things, or will we just end up with a different flavor of broken?


  1. The State’s 2/3 spending majority is a joke. Most people think that “majority rules” in a political system, but that isn’t true in California. 33% voting block can effectively stop any modification in tax and spending policy in California - only Arkansas and Rohde Island have the same laws, most other states have a 55% or simply majority vote rule. We ought to let one party be responsible, so we can hold them responsible.

    Gerrymandering during the legislative district apportionment – the process of drawing ‘safe seats’ – have almost completely done away with competitive districts. There were fewer than 4 of 120 state legislative seats that are truly competitive in the last 10-year reapportionment cycle. This stifles competition and exacerbated the division amongst parties, eliminating moderates. To the governor’s credit, because he doesn’t deserve much, one of his few good policy moves has been to have court reapportionment. This should do much to put moderates back into both parties.
    Term Limits are another huge problem. Politicians, like most people, are risk averse – they don’t like uncertainty in their job or financial security anymore than you or I. Term limits increases future uncertainty for politicians and thus enhances the risk for moral hazard. If you were worried about earning a living, even if subconsciously, you might treat an agency, industry, or corporation with more deference if you though about entering that job market. It also increases illogical and gimmicky budgeting habits. Imagine being given a state credit card for which you can no longer be held responsible for in 4-6 years. A politician who continuously worries about getting reelected will be less prone to make risky long-term decisions or be involved in graft and as a seasoned politician gets close to the age of retirement they are more concerned with their ‘legacy’ than making a profit for themselves or their friends.

  2. Everyone likes to hate politicians, but there is a steep learning curve in state government. Imagining trying to understand a $150-Billion Budget in a $1-Trillion+ economy with three 2-year terms in the Assembly, which is generally a stepping stone to two 4-year terms in the State Senate and then maybe to Congress (where there are no term limits) if you are lucky. First, running for office, even in a reelection takes a half-year of your time, while you spend the rest of your time in office competing against your fellow members who are nested in your Senate or Congressional District... by the time elected officials have figured out what they are doing they are being ushered out the door, so most elected official do not have much practical experience in working out the mechanics of government. Really, this is a ludicrous practice… would you kick a physician or doctor out of their job after 6-years, most of which they would have spent in school?

    In the governor’s case he had no real applicable knowledge of the workings of government, plus he thought of himself as a ‘moderate’, when gerrymandering had eliminated most moderate elected officials from both parties, so he only had conservative republican staff to hire from – which is why he came into office advertised as a moderate, pushing right-wing ballot initiatives only to lose them and end up firing his staff conservative staff and hiring former democrats, like his chief of staff Susan Kennedy who worked for Grey Davis.

    Term limits is either a fool’s invention or the creation of someone smart enough to realize that they could get groups like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers or other neocon whores to pimp their policies through 2/3 budget holdouts.

  3. Ballot initiatives, which are responsible for term limits and a host of other bad public policy ventures, including dedicated tax and spending formulas are another problem that voters are directly responsible for – although it was legislated into existence, as an experiment in direct democracy. There is an insatiable public desire for immediate gratification without much respect to long-term financial planning. Voters, like many credit holders, have an unlimited desire to spend without paying for services. Stupid us.

    So far from what I’ve seen, the likes of Robert Hertzberg, a Hollywood Movie attorney (who was nicknamed ‘Hugsberg’ when he was Speaker of the assembly, because of his penchant for hugging everyone) and his Chamber of Commerce buddies are hardly altruistic in their government reform package – if you are thinking about their ideas for reform. He and is interested in either becoming governor of California or Mayor of LA and is using his ‘reform’ package as a way to catapult himself into the spotlight as a ‘good governance’ guy.

    Arnold is an incompetent joke. Meg Whitman is another Arnold in the making. Steve Poizner is a Napoleonic nincompoop. Gavin Newsom is all fluff and no stuff. Jerry Brown is a capable politician, but a wildcard. Tom Campbell is probably the most competent administrator; but, the only way he’ll win is if Poizner and Whitman do a political murder-suicide with each other, because conservatives don’t naturally support realists.

    The problem with good reform is that there isn’t anyone out there acting without self interest and until people (Californians) come to grips with reality, which is unpopular, good luck on getting politicians to embrace it.

  4. If you could find statesmen who have the best interests of the people of California at heart, maybe it would help. Where are such people to be found? Our political machinery is dominated by two parties, who ensure that their people put the interests of the Party foremost. Some of the men who wrote the Constitution of the United States foresaw this, but couldn't figure out how to prevent it.

    So my answer is: a different flavor of broken.

  5. @Albiowood -- maybe we can get some folks from Nevada to rewrite our constitution, and we can send some Californians to redo theirs?

  6. We are not mature enough to fix things with a state constitutional convention... It would break down into a fight between anti-abortionists vs gay marriage advocates, or a fight over some other obscure issues, with the major problems unresolved. The nosiest, angriest participants would prevail, with big money lobbyists pulling all the stings and the media televising every blow.

  7. @All -- whoops! I wasn't supposed to comment on Discussion posts. Mine was more of a joke (or not). Sorry!


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