Charting a way out of the mess in the Capitol
The group California Forward has offered a sensible plan to change state and local government with something for nearly everyone. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
If this sounds familiar, it should. A similar proposal was rejected by voters last year. But there's one very substantial difference in this latest idea: It would affect only future legislators, not the current crop.
Legislators would be required to spend part of each year in their district. This is vague and possibly unenforceable. It's a response to the budding movement to demote the Legislature to part-time status. Petitions currently are circulating to qualify such an initiative for the June 2010 ballot.
The part-time Legislature notion is for another column. But initially, it seems to reflect a Norman Rockwell fantasy, a yearning for a nostalgic era that hasn't existed in California for at least a half-century. There are many impracticalities for a part-time Legislature in the 21st century.
This state is the most populated in the nation with the eighth-largest economy in the world. It needs a full-time Legislature -- operating under an improved system -- to deal with the state's increasingly complex problems. Weakening the Legislature merely would shift more power to the governor and the Capitol's 1,000-plus lobbyists.
There's also a drive to hold California's first constitutional convention since 1879 to rewrite the rambling document and submit it to voters. One problem with that is the sponsor, the business-oriented Bay Area Council, intends to select the delegates randomly in some as yet undetermined manner.
Delegates to such a momentous, historic confab should be elected, probably locally, not picked from a phone book.
Anyway, it would take years for a constitutional convention to bear fruit.
California Forward's package could be adopted by voters next year. The Legislature will consider it in the fall. If it doesn't place some version on the ballot, the reform group will sponsor an initiative.
"It's not that we don't have smart people in Sacramento," says Co-Chairman Thomas V. McKernan, a Republican activist and chief executive of the Automobile Club of Southern California. "People sometimes are captive of the system they're in. And unless we change the system, their behavior doesn't change."
The quickest, safest route to change is the course mapped out by California Forward.