Hard, that is, unless you consider that voters are tired of an assembly whose members are so obsessed with their own short-term gains, whose districts are so gerrymandered as to preclude any search for consensus, and whose options are so constricted by Prop 13 and fixed funding-equations as to render any decision about our fiscal priorities a wrenching choice between worse and much-worse.
The state, in short, looks to be screwed.
I remember back in the early 90s when magazine covers similarly presaged the end of the "California Dream." Then the dot-com boom washed ashore (bringing me to teach online communication classes in the middle of Silicon Valley) and everyone began buying mini-mansions. Credit was cheap, wages were rising, and the future looked bright.
I remember a faculty meeting when a respected senior colleague with connections in Sacramento assured us of an era of good times. Fat budgets meant more hiring opportunities, more travel support, and more flexibility to launch curricular experiments. It appeared that I'd moved to the Golden State at a golden moment. What could go wrong?
Now we confront a reckoning the likes of which have not been seen in a generation, maybe a lifetime. Our assembly is more rigidly locked into its death-struggle than ever before, with each side of the aisle drawing opposing lessons from the Tuesday election results. Republicans call for more tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. Democrats demand we hold the line on services that help the poor. And no one seems to trust the governor to wring order from our statehouse shenanigans.
Then today I read Jennifer Steinhauer's New York Times article about the growing movement to convene another constitutional convention, the state's first since 1878-79. Depending on our willingness to demonstrate that revered California quality of innovation, this event could cut the Gordian Knot of our state's woes. Assembly members are too feckless and too entrenched to make the tough decisions. And voters are too swayed by the emotions of the moment to connect their votes to past commitments or future implications. Indeed, as Steinhauer notes:
"[Our current] ballot initiative process - in which legislators or independent groups ask voters to mandate how the state’s money is spent or not spent - has become at times an exercise in fiscal self defeat, with voters moving to earmark money for one special program one year, only to contemplate undoing their own will a few elections later."A constitutional convention offers a means, by no means a guarantee, for thoughtful discussion of the problems we face. Putting everything on the table, even rethinking California's 70s-era feel-good property tax laws that contributed seeds to today's thicket, might provide a way to start thinking strategically about the connection between income and outgo that has largely vanished from our political discourse.
This would be no one-time vote (less than a fourth of the electorate even showed up this past Tuesday). Rather, a constitutional convention would demand hearings, debates, expert opinion, and popular response: a real conversation about California's future that would take time and sustained effort. And unlike the tinkering that marks our proposition process, we can change things in a big way. As I noted on Tuesday, the day when state voters seemed to throw up their hands in disgust, Things Have Changed. We need a new dialogue about our constitution to reflect this new reality. I think our only solution is a constitutional convention.
Even with the drama of this past year, it'd be a hell of a show.
Read Steinhauer's article: California, Out of Money, Reels as Voters Rebuff Leaders