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From left: Kenneth P. Miller, Bruce Cain, Steven Hill and Jessica A. Levinson. Photo by Kelly Lacefield

Is California Governable?

Panel Discusses State of the State

October 20, 2009

By Paula Selleck

Is California Governable? Bruce Cain of UC Berkeley framed the question during a Constitution Week panel discussion on the topic with other political scientists and authors.

Joining him were Steven Hill of the New America Foundation; Jessica A. Levinson, director of political reform for the Center for Governmental Studies and adjunct professor at Loyola Law School; and moderator Kenneth P. Miller, associate director of Claremont McKenna’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government and co-editor of “The New Political Geography of California.” Cain is the Heller Professor of Political Science and director of the UC Washington Center, as well as author of “The Reapportionment Puzzle.”

The size and diversity — societal and economic — of the state make it a challenge to govern, Cain explained, offering three goals that, if achieved, could make California more governable:

  • better accountability — “The reason why people are so angry at government as a whole,” he observed, “is that it’s hard to figure out who is creating the messes … which party is to blame.”
  • more accommodation to local control — “Local governments, 75 percent say, are the most popular form of government, and the least popular is state government,” yet the state has the most fiscal control, he pointed out.
  • more flexibility in the budgeting process — “A series of decisions we made over the years has locked us into certain commitments and decisions,” he said, which limit flexibility in the budgeting process. This wasn’t planned, he added, but needs to be addressed.

Cain explored various options to achieve a more governable state:

  • Make it harder to change the constitution. He spoke of California’s “inverted democracy problem,” which thwarts the principle of majority rule. “In most states and countries, the ability to change the Constitution is highly restrictive. Why? Because we don‘t want temporary majorities manipulating the rules.” Californians, he noted, can change the Constitution with about 17 percent of the electorate’s participation during a primary election. He advocates a two-pronged approach: make it easier for the state to pass a budget and harder to change the Constitution.
  • Allow direct democracy to grow and thrive by giving cities and counties the right to determine their own rules and greater control over sources of revenue.
  • Enhance the oversight capabilities of the Legislature by requiring checks on agencies and programs to ensure that funds are being spent as intended.
  • Consider a unicameral legislature — with the current number of elected representatives in a single house — in order to reduce costs of campaigning and boost efficiency in policy-making. “Lots of mischief goes on in conference committees,” he said.
  • Pursue term-limit reform.

The other panelists agreed with Cain’s premise that California would be more governable by pursuing such options. They commented on the need for reform and offered what moderator Miller described as “an interesting Smorgasbord of suggestions” for possible ways to achieve it.

“We can’t afford our dysfunction anymore,” said Levinson, adding optimistically, “We do get good reforms when things are bad.” She discussed the pros and cons of calling a Constitutional Convention vs. pursuing reforms initiative by initiative.

Determining how delegates would be selected and who would choose them are among the thornier issues she associates with a constitutional convention. Still, a convention would allow for comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, approach to change.

She also characterized as “an obvious fix” replacing the two-thirds vote needed to pass a state budget with a simple majority vote. Just two other states — Rhode Island and Alabama — require a two-thirds vote, she pointed out, and 13 states require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes. California stands alone in requiring two-thirds to do both. No wonder California faces gridlock on money matters.

The panelists agreed that California could be on the road to reform when voters consider June 2010 ballot measures, which provide for an open primary, as well as public funding for the Office of Secretary of State. If the former measure is approved, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would proceed to the general election.

“This could have a moderating effect on the Legislature,” Levinson said.

Other forward movement she identified: “Redistricting reform is happening right now and could lead to some more competition” among those running for office.

Hill, director of the Political Reform Program for the New America Foundation, observed that “one of the problems of California that I think doesn’t get discussed enough is the large and growing gap that exists between people who live in California and people who vote in California.”

This “rumpocracy” leads, he said, to “government that drifts away from the population.” He cited universal voter registration — “everyone would be on the rolls” — and instant runoff voting — voters’ first and second choices advancing to the general election — as ways to boost voter participation.

He also called for “getting rid of single-member districts,” noting that “California has become a state where we can tell you right now who will win in the June 2010 election.” Hill favors proportional representation, which, he contends, would lead to more choices for voters and more bridge-building in the Legislature.

He cited public financing of campaigns as an avenue to aligning California with “the vast number of democracies around the world … and it works.

“Public financing is about making sure you, the voters, have fair and balanced information, at least a plethora of information to make a good decision. Right now,” he said, “you hear from the candidates who have the most money, or who have access to organizations that have the most money. Public financing would be about making sure you get to hear from a range of candidates.”

Regarding a constitutional convention, in his work for the foundation, Hill has explored how citizen delegates could participate and how they could be chosen.

“In some ways it would be like a massive focus group,” he said. Delegates could hear expert testimony and meet to address a narrow set of areas to include matters of budget and governance. What delegates propose would go on the ballot for all Californians to vote on.

About everyday citizens vs. politicians participating in such a convention, Hill relayed that when citizens are asked whether they are concerned that “average people, so to speak, won’t have the expertise to do this, their response has been ‘no’ because that’s not what we’d be turning to those people for.

“You’re bringing those people for their values — their values about what’s right and wrong and what’s going to help California and also because they’re not people who are thinking about ‘is this going to affect my re-election,’ or ‘is this going to affect my party’s chances in the next election, or my friends’ chances in the next election.’ They’re simply there to solve a problem,” Hill said.

“You’re sitting across the table suddenly with someone who is your polar opposite, and you’ve got to find common ground; that’s what you’ve been charged to do by the people of California, and when you have that charge in front of you … you’re going to be pushed to try to see your better selves.”

On Audio

The panel discussion is available on audio (MP3, 97MB). The following is the transcription of the recording:

Discussion Transcription

Kenneth Miller: Welcome to the final event of Constitution Week here at Cal State Fullerton. And my name is Ken Miller, I’m a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, not too far from here, and it’s nice to be here on the Fullerton campus for this event. I think it’s appropriate that Cal State Fullerton as part of the commemoration of the Constitution Day or Week is focusing on the Constitution of California and the institutions of California state government. This often neglected feature of the American Constitutional design includes state constitutions and the institutional structures of the states.

California is, like other states, struggling in many ways with questions of institutional design, and we have on this panel here some of the most prominent and well informed people on many of these questions, and people who are key players in the debate as to whether, and in what ways, we should try to revisit some of the institutions of state government and consider reforming them. So again, welcome.

Let me quickly introduce the panelists, and then I think the format is that each will be speaking for about 10 or 15 minutes, and then I’ll probably ask a question or two to the panel, and then we’ll open it up for questions from the audience.

Let me begin by introducing to my immediate left, this is Steven Hill, he is the director of the Political Reform Program of the Youth America Foundation, which is among other things one of the leading voices for political reform in the United States.

Among other things, he’s written extensively and I believe his most recent publication is “10 Steps to Repair American Democracy,” which is I think appropriate to our panel today. And he’s also been involved in the recent discussions about institutional design in California.

To his left, your right, is Jessica Levinson. Jessica is the director of Political Reform at the Center for Governmental Studies. Her work focuses on governance issues, including campaign finance, ethics, ballot initiatives, redistricting, term limits and state budgets.

She’s a graduate of Loyola Marymount University and Loyola Law School, and she’s also an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School where she teaches courses in campaign finance.

And then finally, to my far left is Dr. Bruce Cain, the Heller Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley, and the director of the UC Washington Center in Washington DC, the former director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at Berkeley. Bruce is a graduate of Bowdon College, and he has his PhD from Harvard University. He was also a Rhodes Scholar, and he was a professor at Caltech before he went to UC Berkeley.

He’s written extensively on California politics and government and state on government generally. Among other things, he was the co editor of the volume on constitutional reform in California, which I think was published in 1994, which suggests these are not new questions. We’ve been struggling a long time with these questions on institutional design, and Bruce has been the leading voice on the questions for a long time.

I will say probably his greatest academic accomplishment in his career was getting me through my own dissertation process as my division chair at Berkeley, so it’s good to have Bruce here.

Kenneth Miller: As I understand it the topic for the panel is, is California governable? OK, that’s sort of a broad question. So, I think that goes to the questions of institutional design, the particular ways in which California state government or the institutions of state government make the state more difficult to govern. And then you can also comment on potential reforms that might improve the capacity of the state government to do basic public policy.

Bruce Cain: Well, first of all I want to thank Cal State Fullerton for the opportunity to come here. And as Ken suggested, this is the second cycle of constitutional reform discussions I’ve been involved in. Back in the 90s, we had similar discussions about the need for constitutional reform, and it was a similar pattern. That is, the state was in a recession, the legislature was acting in a dysfunctional way at a critical time and it wasn’t dealing with the problems. You may recall that Pete Wilson called a constitutional commission and the commission deliberated. I was advisor to the commission, we had a bunch of academics that wrote some background essays and did some research for them.

But in the end, the commission was canceled when there was a change in the leadership of the legislature, and the whole idea of reform died largely because the economy recovered and we could afford our dysfunction again.

And that’s basically the story — we can afford our dysfunction when the economy is revving along and there’s really no problems, but every time the economy turns down and we have a crisis, we notice the shortcomings of our political system to a great degree.

Now, the question of whether California is ungovernable, I would say the answer is it’s very hard to govern but it’s not ungovernable. Now, why is it harder to govern than Iowa and Montana and South Dakota? And the reason is a very obvious one, which is the size and diversity of the state. I mean, government is all about making collective choices and decisions. And the more homogeneous the group is, the easier it is to make a collective decision. And the more diverse and the more disagreement there is out there, then the harder it is for government to make choices. And it doesn’t matter what end of government you’re talking about, that’s going to be the case.

So basically, the easier the sociology, the easier the governance. And so some part of this is nothing you can remedy, right? We can’t make our sociology easier. There are people who would like to try by changing immigration reform or deporting immigrants. But realistically, we can’t make our sociology easier.

And in fact, immigration reform, even if you took the most Draconian steps that were proposed in the House bill a few years ago, you would still have increasing diversity in California because the birth rates of the Latino population and the immigrant population far exceed those of native whites. So we’re going to have diversity.

The result of the policies pursued since the Reagan years has increased, for better or worse, the income inequalities, not only in California but across the country.

So that kind of diversity, diversity of social and economic variety, increasing polarization, which is related to these underlying trends, and of course the proliferation of powerful and sophisticated interest groups makes for a very difficult sociology. So, we’re asking a lot of our political system.

So, is the state ungovernable? No, but you’re not going to get a perfect government, you’re not going to be able to end all conflicts. And one thing that we have to bear in mind is that you can’t fix locally what originates nationally and internationally. So if there’s global economic crisis, if the national government cannot control the borders in an orderly and just way, then there’s not much that state and local jurisdictions can do, no matter how perfect their government is.

So, we have to bear in mind that the problems slide downward. And cities and counties and governors can only do so much, and legislature can only do so much. What we want to try with constitutional reform is to make that response the best that it can be. But we have to understand that some of that is just outside the realm of state government.

So, is it ungovernable? No, I think there are various goals. I’ll just mention three, but there are certainly more than that. Three goals that I think we need to strengthen. One is accountability. I think one of the problems, one of the reasons why people are so angry with government as a whole is it’s very hard to figure out which party to blame for the problems.

And that has to do with the mechanisms we know which make it very hard because of the super majority vote to figure out who is creating that mess up there. So the natural, rational response is the same one you have with your kids when they’re arguing and you don’t know which one started the fight. You blame them both. And that’s essentially what a lot of voters are doing. So we need better accountability.

Secondly, we need more accommodation to local control. Local governments now ... 75 percent of the state budget comes down to local ordinances that the most popular form of government is local government. The least popular is state government and yet state government has control of local financing. That is a prescription for problems.

So we need to strengthen and accommodate local controls to a greater degree and most importantly we need more flexibility. That is the budgeting process is a series of decisions that we’ve made over the years that have locked us in to certain commitments and locked us in to certain restrictions that make it very hard for us to deal with a crisis.

The crisis would still be painful. There still would be hard choices. There’s no guarantee that good decisions can be made but we make it even harder with the inflexibility we have in the system.

So what should be done? I’ll give my five little ideas. There are many more that need to be done but I’ll give five. Steve will have his ideas and I’m not sure where the senator or government stands on things but I know where Steve is on things. So what should be done?

Well first of all we need to address what I call the inverted democracy problem. So what’s the inverted democracy problem? In normal thinking about constitutional design and government, the rules of the game are set by the constitution. That is, is there a legislature? What’s the legislature said? How does it pass bills? What are the roles and powers of the executive branch? What does the judiciary do?

The rules of the game are set out in constitutions. In most states and countries, the ability to change the constitution is highly restricted. We have super majority rules. In many states you have to pass a change twice in two successive elections. And why do that? Why do we make it so hard to change the rules?

Well the reason is that we don’t want temporary majorities manipulating the rules so that they can gain advantage over time. What we say is that the rules of the game, the constitutional rules, should be set by super majority rule and normal politics should be by majority. Why? Because there are decisions that have to be made, and in this democracy we believe in the principal of majority rule. So that’s a normal democracy. What’s an inverted democracy? An inverted democracy is the exact opposite where you can change the constitution with a simple majority or less and the policymaking is controlled by super majorities. So in the inverted democracy in California, you can change the constitution like that. If you do it in the primary election, you could do it with like 17 or 14 percent of the vote but to pass a budget or to pass a tax, you need a super majority vote. You have local (inaudible). For property taxes you need two-thirds vote.

Now think of the federal government. You flip that around. The federal government has exactly the opposite system. You can pass a budget in the Congress through budget reconciliation, which is a majority vote, but for everything from appointments to major legislation like health care, you need a super majority vote because of the culture and the filibuster.

So it’s an interesting question. Why does a democracy which is controlled by the majority decide that a minority ought to be given a veto? Why would we give power over to the minority?

I think this is a long, complex question and I’m not going to take enough time to go into it. If someone wants to bring it up, we can go into it. But I think largely what it is and I’m going to use social science language and then I’ll get out of it.

The social science language is it’s an agency problem. The real person language about that is that you don’t trust the government. OK. You don’t trust the government. They’re your agent. You may be a Democrat but you don’t trust the Democrats in the legislature. You’ll vote for the Democratic Party but on certain issues you don’t trust them.

And so when they do pull in on a simple majority vote in the state, they find that it’s ... although the last PGIC poll was as Vince pointed out here very promising, some of the previous polling suggested that a majority did not want to get rid of simple majority vote. Now that may be changing because of the fiscal circumstances that we’re in. If the PGIC poll is repeated, that may suggest that a majority wants to regain control.

But for ... It’s odd that both national and local state level that a majority is so deferential to super majority rule. I think we need to do something, at least in California, about the inverted democracy problem, which means we need to strengthen the super majority requirements about changing the constitution so it’s not manipulated for particular groups that want more spending for themselves.

And at the same time, we need to make it easier for local communities and the state legislature to pass budgets. And we should go to a majority vote and that will strengthen accountability.

I would think Republicans are the big losers in this, even though they don’t think so. Because reality is that if the Democrats really do make a mistake and pass too many taxes, you’re much more likely to get control of the legislature and not be buried as a minority. But right now because nobody knows who to blame, the Republicans never have a chance of digging out of the hole until they can identify the Democrats as the you know the tax them until they drop bastards that they really are. And that’s not going to happen if they don’t have control of the legislature.

Anyway, second thing is ... As they said ... So first we have to address the inverted democracy problem. The second thing you need to do is direct democracy is a good thing. We need to let it continue to thrive. But we should say that any policy or budgetary matter done by direct democracy has to be a statutory initiative, not a constitutional initiative.

And that way the legislature ... And you could even build into it that for two years nobody can touch that statutory initiative, but after two years the legislature can amend it. And then if you wanted to, you could say if the sponsors don’t like it, they can put another measure on the ballot with a reduced ballot requirement.

There are variations on that idea. But the idea is that you should not be able to lock in your preference for a particular policy. Now the CSU and UC paid a price for not playing that game. We could have done a Prop 98. It was vigorously debated at UC that we should do a Prop 98 to lock in funding for higher education.

We said that’s not the way budgeting should be done. We were suckers and we are paying the price. This university is paying the price for that political decision not to play politics the way everybody else is playing politics in this state.

So the question is whether CSU and UC have to play that game or whether they can change the game to something far more sensible where everybody isn’t locking into the constitution. They’re spending and causing inflexibility.

Third thing you need to give cities and counties the right to determine their own rules and sources of revenue. If a city and county wants to have a two-thirds vote or a three-quarters vote, that’s fine. But it should be the determination of Orange County what its rules are. It should be the determination of Alameda County what its rules are. It shouldn’t be set by the statewide electorate.

Fourthly, we need to incentivize, perhaps even require but certainly enhance, the oversight capabilities of the legislature. Too much of the legislative activities towards passing bills and too little enforce the tedious yet essential work of oversight.

What’s oversight? Oversight is checking up on agencies, finding out what they’re doing with the money, looking at programs whether they’re effective or not and the legislature is not mature enough to do this on their own.

Why? Because there doesn’t garner headlines unless there’s some really spectacular scandal. So somehow we need to require oversight activity, require certain things, require that perhaps there be nonpartisan audit reports that they vet. But somehow that oversight function has to be improved because right now in the state too many people think that money is wasted in government.

And we know that money is wasted in government. But the assumptions of how much money is wasted in government are way, way, way in fantasyland. There are a lot of people who think that 30 to 40 percent of the money is wasted. That’s just not true. And the way we’ll get to that is to have real oversight and identify how much waste there is and how many programs ought to be terminated.

Legislature has dropped the ball on oversight. There’s a report that we did years ago, a couple of years ago, that documented that.

Then lastly, there’s a whole bunch of things that we can consider and then I’ll stop and that is we should consider the unicameral legislature, which we put in our report way back in the ‘90s and that was one of the things that helped kill it.

This will probably kill it. If anybody listens to me, it’ll probably cause their ideas to be killed as well but I can share it with you. Unicameral legislature, for example, why? Because a larger legislature will reduce the costs of campaigning in any one district and will increase the representation. You’re not going to sell the electorate on larger assembly and dissent. So if you had 120, you’d have the same number of members you have right now but put them in the White House. Secondly, since Big vs. Carr and the reapportionment revolution, we don’t really have different bases of representation between the House and the Senate other than size and all that really happens is in conference committees there’s a lot of mischief that goes on. So let’s end that. Unicameral legislation.

No more, you know, inducting them in late at night activities. You need to have term-limits reform and you need to go back to a professionalized non-partisan staff. So I would actually get involved in organizing not just the legislature, but the staff of the legislature and mandate non-partisan staff. The temptations to take staff for the purposes of fiscal credit.

Anyways, those are my ideas. I think what Steve and others will talk about probably is the way to get there. That is, do you need to have a constitutional convention and how you appoint such a convention? I’ll save my remarks on this until later. Let me just say that I don’t know what works best so in the mean time I’m for all of the above.

Jessica Levinson: Well first of all I want to say that I’m going to repeat a lot of what Dr. Cain said which makes me know that I’m on the right track. So the first thing that I wrote down when you said why is California difficult to govern is size and diversity. Basically, California is a state that in reality is a country. What we’re asking our state officials to do is govern a state that stretches -- I looked on a map today -- virtually from South Carolina to New York or Pennsylvania. So there are a lot of diverse interests.

We are governable but it’s particularly difficult. And I think what you said is right is that we can’t afford our dysfunction anymore. The light at the end of the tunnel is that I think we do get really good reforms when thinks are bad. So I think this is a particularly good time. It’s ripe for reform. It’s great that we’re having these conversations. One of the main issues that I’ve been thinking about and I know that Steven Hill’s been thinking about more and longer than I have is this issue of how to affect this change and what change do we want.

One option is to call a constitutional convention. Another is, and there are more than two, but the other one as I see it is to try and implement reform initiative by initiative. And I think there are pros and cons to each particular proposal.

The constitutional convention would allow, as I see it, a large competency reform package to a very large conversation as to what the issues are in California and we’ll be able to look at all the issues as they interrelate. So it won’t be a piecemeal type of issue-by-issue discussion. On the other hand, a constitutional convention is difficult to implement. The way that now only the legislature can call a constitutional convention by initiative, we would have to amend the constitution, which I absolutely agree with Dr. Cain is far too easy to do. And we’d have to amend the constitution to allow the people by initiative to call a constitutional convention.

We then have to go through the potentially arduous process of picking who are delegates are going to be. Will they be elected, which brings up many issues that we have with our legislators? If they are elected, who are they indebted to? If they are appointed, will they still be tainted by the poison of their legislators?

Or will they be picked by lottery, which I know frightens a lot of people. Steven Hill has written very persuasively I think that we should not be worried about that option.

So while I think that a constitutional convention would bring about really a wonderful discussion and it would allow comprehensive discussion as to what all the issues facing California are, there certainly are timing and process issues that we should consider.

Initiatives would potentially allow us to move more quickly, we could focus on one issue at a time, and we wouldn’t have to spread our energy and think about other issues like delegate selection.

So, I’m just going to do what I do in my class which is give kind of a broad brush overview as I see as the main issues that would be addressed either by constitutional convention or by initiative approach, some of which have already been discussed. And one is the budget process. In a PPIC poll that came out on September 10, so I think that’s last week now, says that 96 percent of people think that the budget situation is a problem, and 78 percent think it’s a big problem.

So clearly, I think something needs to be done. An obvious fix is to change the two thirds requirement. I absolutely agree with this inverted democracy issue, I think that’s 100 percent right. And the same goes for taxes. We have a two-thirds requirement to pass increases in taxes.

And the other thing I wrote down is, as was mentioned, more oversight. We should really reevaluate programs and agencies to make sure that money is spent wisely. And to give you sense of potentially why California is difficult to govern in comparison to other states, it’s not only size and diversity, but it is the institutional issues.

For instance, Arkansas and Rhode Island are the two other states, as far as I know, that have the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. I think Arkansas and Rhode Island together may be the size of LA County. And there are 12 other states that have the two-thirds requirement to pass tax increases.

My research shows, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that only California has both of these two-thirds requirements. It makes it very difficult to affect some change.

Other issues which have been briefly brought up include direct democracy and the ballot initiative process, which I think is a good process though in need of some reform. The quick fix would be for proponents to be forced to discuss proposals with the legislature, and if they agree then the ballot initiative will not be on the ballot. That will save us the cost of these very expensive ballot measure campaigns.

And there are a lot of really interesting electoral reforms that are being discussed. One of them we’ll be voting on in June 2010 is the open primary. Under that system voters can vote for, in the primary, for a candidate from either party, and then the top two vote getters, regardless of party, would proceed to the general. This means two Republicans or two Democrats could appear on the general election ballot. Now there’s a thought that this might have a moderating effect on the legislature.

Another fix, I think term limits absolutely need to be addressed. The primary proposal that I see is to allow 12 years in either House instead of six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate, which is our current framework.

Redistricting reform is happening right now. I just got off a two hour conference call dealing with the application to pick the redistricting commission. I think that’s really exciting. I think it could lead to some more competition. The legislature’s goal in the last redistricting in 2001 was in large part to keep their jobs and they just accomplished that with flying colors. Incumbents win at an unbelievable rate.

And campaign finance issues certainly, this is what I talk about in my class. I think ways exists to try and get special interest money out of the system. I just wanted to give a quick overview as I see it, of some issues facing California now and some of the proposals that we can address.

Kenneth Miller: Thank you, Jessica. Steve?

Steven Hill: You know, I don’t disagree with anything that either Bruce or Jessica have said. From where I sit, one of the problems of California that I think does not get discussed enough and doesn’t get addressed enough, and I’ll outline as an overview of what reforms I think are going to fix that problem, is that we have a large and growing gap between the people who live in California and the people who vote in California.

If you look at the demographic breakdown of who votes and who lives here, you see that the electorate is overwhelmingly whiter, wealthier and older compared to the people who live here. And this has been the case for a while, but it’s growing as the demographics of California changes. Now, a lot of political science will tell you, well, but the people who don’t vote, they actually have similar views to those who do vote so if you added them to the voter pile it wouldn’t change things that much.

But there was a poll done a few years ago by the Public Policy Institute of California in which they asked these two groups of people, voters versus non voters, their policy preferences on a whole range of things like, should the government spend more money on education? Should government be more active in doing things and helping improve our communities? Should we change Proposition 13?

They had a whole list of questions like this. And you saw a very, very different perspective between those who vote here and those who live here. And I would submit to you that that problem is not going to go away. And if you have a, what I’d call the rumpocracy, the rump of people who vote, who have different views when it comes to deciding legislatures, when it comes to deciding ballot measures, and they’re passing reforms that the rest of the population doesn’t want, you’re going to slowly have government that drifts out of sync with the population. I think California is the example of that having happened.

And that’s just a quick rundown of it. We can talk more about it during Q & A if that’s of interest.

So the question is, how do we address this? What reforms will change this? And so I’m going to throw out a few brief things to think about and we can talk about. One is called universal voter registration, which most established democracies in the world practice. In most places in the world, if you have a pulse and you’re breathing and you’re old enough to vote, you are automatically registered to vote.

In California and the rest of the United States, we leave it up to the initiative of the voter, and if they’ve moved or anything they have to change their address, and there’s all these certain variables, and you add in some of the shenanigans that go on and lead up to elections where different partisan sides try adding incentive to get their voters on, and keep the other side’s voters off.

All these sorts of things that go on, it’s resulted in California having a fairly low percentage of eligible Californians who are registered to vote. In addition, in California we have a pretty sizable and growing group of Californians who are not eligible to vote, and yet they’re living here. And what do we think about that? Do we just ignore that? Do we just say, well, sorry, you just don’t get to vote? But they’re using services, they live here, they pay taxes. Do we just simply ignore that? Over time I think that’s going to be a bigger and bigger problem.

So with universal voter registration, everyone in California would be automatically registered to vote. You’d be sent something in the mail saying, congratulations, you’re now registered to vote. Here’s where you vote. If something is sent by the State, it’s sent to the local counties where it’s administered.

And that way we would get everyone on the rolls, because the people who aren’t on the rolls are overwhelmingly young people, people of color and poor people, OK? So that’s part of the reason why you have this gap between those who live here and those who vote.

Now, it’s certainly true some have said that registering to vote is like getting a membership at the gym -- doesn’t do you much good if you don’t actually use it, right? So, now we’ve got everyone to vote, everyone registered, we’ve got 100 percent of the people registered in California, which is believe it or not, other countries do accomplish this so it is doable.

So now how do we get people to vote? What kind of reforms can we have that would make people feel like their vote would count? So I think there are a few things we can do.

One is a reform that we passed in San Francisco called Instant Runoff Voting. Here you have a first, second and third choice when you are voting. When you step in that voting booth you are not just stuck picking like, “Well, I like this candidate here but I know she doesn’t stand a chance so I am going to vote for the lesser or two evils over here.”

That kind of mentality that is throughout our democracy — it is rather corrosive. If you are not excited about the people you are voting for there is a much greater chance that you are not going to show up to vote. With these kinds of ranked ballot methods you can put your favorite candidate first. You can put your Aunt Molly first because you think she’ll be great. She tells the truth, she’s honest, and that is who you think is best, knowing that if she can’t win, your vote will go to your second choice and you are not going to lose your vote.

So that becomes a reason for voters not to feel so alienated when they go into the voting booth. And also, it will prevent — the other goal of doing this is you are electing majority winners in a single election. So California actually in recent years has had quite a few governors elected by less than a majority of the votes.

What does that mean if someone is elected with less than a majority? Well, it means you can’t be certain that the correct candidate won. Because if you have two liberals running against a conservative in a liberal district or a liberal state, they may split the liberal vote. Instead of the liberal getting 60 percent, they each get 30 percent, and the conservative gets 40 percent. The conservative wins, even though it is a liberal district or a liberal state. And vice versa in a conservative state or a conservative district.

So you can have these non-majority winners — spoilers, as you heard the term I am sure. Like in the 2002 presidential election, Ralph Nader and what have you. But don’t forget Ross Perot in 1992, where some feel he kept George Bush, Sr. from winning.

So, allowing the voters to rank first, second, and third choices liberates voters to vote for candidates that they really want. I think that is a good thing. The second thing that I think we need to look at, and in some ways is even more profound, is getting rid of this hodgepodge of single member districts that will reduce the voting. We are electing one district per representative.

It seems like a simple way to do it. In seems like it makes sense to do it because that is how we have always done it. But when you really think about it, by doing it that way, California has become a state where we can pretty much tell you right now in the 2010 election who is going to win most of the districts — 95 pecent.

You know some days you can route through all your district lines but not really. A lot of it is where people live. We have tended to self select ourselves where now the urban areas and the coastal areas in California are dominated by the liberals and progressives, and the more rural areas are dominated by the conservatives.

So you can draw districts. In order to make competitive districts in California which we will discover after Prop. 11 is implemented, you can even draw districts that start on the coast and go all the way inland. Districts that start in downtown LA and go into Riverside and San Bernardino counties like spokes of a wheel. Or, districts that start in downtown San Francisco and go over to Contra Costa County like spokes of a wheel.

Those are the types of districts you are going to have to draw in order to create better districts in California. But if you do that you are going to run into something called the Voting Rights Act, which says a lot of different things but the goal behind it is to try to maximize opportunities for minorities to elect their candidates of choice.

So there are a lot of conflicting goals when you start having single member districts drawing the district lines. If instead of doing that we use what most of the established democracies in the world use, a system called proportional representation, where instead of having one district at a time, you take say five of them and combine them together.

So you have, instead of five single seat districts, you have one five seat district. In that district it is going to take you 20 percent of the vote to win one of those seats. So in a district like that you could have Democrats winning two seats, Republicans winning two seats. You could have the Green Party or the Libertarian Party winning one of those seats.

You could have more choice for voters and you could have a situation in which we are not in these bunkered down partisan strongholds where San Francisco only elects Democrats. Suddenly if you had a district around San Francisco where you need 20 percent of the vote, you could have a Republican winning in San Francisco.

My God, what a concept! A San Francisco Republican winning a seat in the state legislature, or an Orange County Democrat winning a seat in the state legislature.

I would submit to you that by doing that you would have more cross-pollination of ideas. You have more bridge building in the legislature. And you have more coalition building going on in the legislature as well as in the elections themselves, as they try to win more votes.

Instead of, in a way, anyone who’s been involved in campaigns knows that, the way it works now, is the legislative leaders and the party leaders, they look out at the political landscape, and they say, OK, this district over here, we know we’ve got that one won. So we are not going to worry about that. We’re not, and we can’t really start with the campaign because there’s nothing to gain. We’re not going to send much money. We’ll raise a ton of money.

But we are going to use that money to give it to candidates and colleagues in more competitive districts and we siphon that money off for more competitors. And the other districts you don’t worry about are the ones where you know you’re not going to win.

And so we’ve become Balkanized along these lines of where most districts are you’re either going to win easily or you’re going to lose them by a lot. And so you pay attention. And everything is about the handful of swing districts and swing voters in those districts that are going to decide let those elections might as well possibly will be holding the majority in the legislature.

These sorts of dynamics, are, sometimes you don’t recognize them is the problems that they are. It’s sort of like you know, a fish, in the ocean, doesn’t recognize the water in which they swim. So we have got to sort of become flying fish to be able to see some of what the problems are that are really crippling our democracy in many ways causing the policy debate to be Balkanized.

For example, a lot of the work is done in the party caucuses. Right? In the legislature. So if you are a Republican, and you’re a party caucus, especially if you are in the leadership, you have no incentive to do anything for the cities because you don’t win votes here. You don’t win seats here. If you went ahead through the Democratic caucus, you don’t have much to say to do anything for republican areas because you don’t win any seats here.

But when other places use these sorts of methods, for example, Illinois uses these sorts of methods for over a hundred years up until 1980. You saw Chicago Republicans getting elected. You saw down state Democrats getting elected. So now they’re in the caucus, and when it comes time to discuss housing, transportation, education in the cities, you suddenly have Republicans saying, hey look, we can’t just ignore these people.

I actually am representing that district, and my constituents, people who voted for me, do go to those schools. And so these sorts of ideas that allow a much more fruitful discussion to go on is not going to happen in California, is not going to happen in most states, the United States, because things are so bunkered down in these single member districts that we can tell you right now who is going to win 95 percent of them. That means there’s no accountability.

That means the candidates don’t have to come to you and ask for your vote because they know they’re going to win. And I hope to heck that this many problems makes a difference on this, but my great suspicion is that it will tweak things a little bit, at the edges, at the margins, but it’s not fundamentally going to address the problem.

So, how am I doing right now? OK. So I’ll just throw out a couple of other ideas I think that are important to have on the table. Public finance of campaigns is important. A lot of people like this become rather polarized.

To me, publicly financed campaigns are about infrastructure sessions. You wouldn’t take the method of counting votes, the voting equipment of the election and put it in to the hands of private sources? Because we know that’s got to be fair and balanced. Well public financing is about making sure you the voters, have fair and balanced information, but at least a plethora of information to make a good decision.

Right now we leave the information that you receive in the hands of privately financed candidates. So you hear from the candidates that have the most money or have access to the organizations that have the most money, for the most part.

Public financing would be about making sure you get to hear from a range of candidates. To make a good choice, so you, the voter, have a range of initiatives to hear from the others. Good debate, solid debate, about one of the best ideas out there to handle the solutions, the problems that we have.

And to make sure that you really are informed. But you’re not going to get that in a privately strictly privately financed system. You’re just not. There is no incentive there to do that. And so by having public financing and I include in that free media time for the candidates or parties.

You know, again, the vast number of democracies around the world, this is what they have and it works. Voters hear from a range of views, and they’re able to hear a good, substantive, robust debate instead of the sound bite driven debates that you get now in the single member districts and the swing districts where it’s all done.

You track that small group of swing voters. So public finance I think is important. And finally, the other idea I saw here. I thought of this before, I was speaking not that long ago at an event here in Orange County, with Governor Pete Wilson. And he threw this idea out there.

And I think it’s a good one so I am going to throw it out to you, and hear what you think. He had this idea, that if you live in California, as governments, you have all these elected offices, and you have a governor and you have a lieutenant governor maybe from a different party. You have a treasurer that maybe from a different party than the governor. You have a secretary of state that may be from a different party than the governor. And they may be pursuing policies that work across odds from each other. But you look at the federal level, you elect a president and then the president picks her or his cabinet.

Right? And so that way the cabinet for the most part, are working as a team with the president, and we don’t have that in California right now. So I think it is intriguing to think about that we should get rid of a lot of these elected offices. And frankly, I think we elect too many offices in California anyway.

How many people here know what the board of equalization does? You elect it. That’s right, not many people know.

But you elect it. We elect too many offices in California and I think taking these offices and maybe not all of them but some of them, maybe we try out a few at a time, and allow the governor to pick her or his cabinet in California. I think it could be a good idea and it’s worth discussing. Thank you. We could talk more about how we get to these things.

Kenneth Miller: OK. So, I am going to ask one quick question as the moderator and then we’ll move on to audience questions. It’s been a really interesting kind of smorgasbord of suggestions of potential reforms.

I am going to ask a broad question to kick off the discussion.

And that is coming back to your original point of the difficulty of governing California is in part the difficult sociology of the state with size and diversity and I would probably add sort of the strong interest group culture where we have strong interests groups across sort of the spectrum from the really strong anti-tax organizations, to public employee unions on the other side.

Unless you gain their interest and they’re entrenched in strong groups and so times quite often, resistance to change which could upset the status quo from which they have received benefits.

Given all of that sort of underlying difficulty in doing normal public policy and politics in this state, why should we be encouraged to believe that we could do fundamental change, fundamental constitutional change.

You got agreement, either in a constitutional convention, or on individual ballot measures that would have significant reform given the difficult sociology of the state.

Bruce Cain: Well I’m not, the honest answer is I’m not optimistic but I try very hard not to get too depressed about it. And Steve knows that I, I guess I would say this, when I was involved last time, we opened up the agenda in a very broad way the three of us did. And the problem with that, the good thing about it is it really asks fundamental out-of-the-box questions about California.

The bad part about it is that every out-of-the-box idea increases the probability that it will all die. And so the big strategic question that California has to ask is whether you open the agenda to this broad set of things.

Or do you take them sequentially. And perhaps address the budget problems first. Cause they are the most pressing problems. They’re the ones PPIC poll identified as on people’s minds. We’ve been discussing this for 20 or 30 years.

And one option that we have is what Florida does which is they have a special commission that looks at the budget. And so one option is instead of opening it up to a very broad convention, you could urge the legislature to do a commission on the budget.

But I agree with you that there’s no guarantee because even in commissions the interest groups and the disagreements that people have about taxes. I mean some people are going to say ‘well simple majority is simply about increasing taxes—boom, that’s it. I don’t want to think about whether majority rule is the right way to run the state or not. It’s simply just about increasing taxes and therefore I’m not interested in even thinking about.’ And so it could, you know, just die stillborn because implicitly people can’t get beyond the immediate effects of what the rule changes are. I mean if you’re going to think about fairness, and this takes you back to Philosophy 101, you know. Philosophy 101 says do you think about fairness, not about how it maximizes your interest, you think about how it works for the public good.

But the problem is that everybody is so sophisticated about what the implications of any change up are for their particular group. Everybody knows exactly what the implications are for themselves so it is very hard to have a discussion.

Now we may be in a different place at the end of June, because I think the way we made budget decisions in this state, we kicked the can down the road. We had two fiscal illusions. We had first the dot com boom. Then we had the real estate boom. And that allowed us to not make any difficult decisions.

Now the legislature has made difficult decisions and the cuts to Cal State Fullerton, the cuts to the DMV, the closing of parks will probably accelerate and when we have another round of cuts in January and then in June voters will have to make a decision. Is this what they want? And they might want it. Maybe we should just, you know, drop our level of services to a lower level. But we don’t know that until people actually experience it.

So I guess I get back to I think it is a problem. Steve and I disagree somewhat about whether the agenda should be very, very open and who should be considering these things because I really fear that we won’t address the most serious problems first. So if I have any hope it’s that we somehow sequence it so that yes we may eventually get some issue turnaround, but I think the pressing issues right now have to do with the budget and local government.

Steve Hill: I don’t necessarily disagree. One thing for people to know is that I’ve been involved in efforts to try and bring a constitutional convention to California. And it’s a lot of details in trying to do something like that. It’s very doable but who would be the delegates, for example, and, you know, we could appoint them, elect them or have some sort of random selection process that’s been used in other bodies. Each of the methods has its pros and cons. But the thing that I’ll say here’s what concerns me is that as we’ve seen in California, there’s a history of voters voting down reform based on who the proposers of reform are. So, you know, in terms of, for example, extension of term limits, which a lot of polls show voters seem to be in favor of extending term limits. I mean it’s not a broad number, but there seems to be some favor for that.

But then the legislature puts it on the ballot. John Berger puts it on the ballot and it’s voted down because the voters don’t trust who’s proposing it. So that’s where I’m thinking beyond the scope or mandate of what a convention would take up or whether it should take up beyond budgets, I agree that that should be a major, major focus.

But I’m concerned with we can come up with a process in which the delegate selection would be of average people like yourselves and this is what’s been used in other places. How many people here think that you would like to be a delegate at a constitutional convention in which you get to weigh in on things like should there be a two-thirds budget rule?

I mean you’d have the support of staff and you’d have access to experts like Bruce and others who’d come and testify and give you the benefit of their views of what the problems and potential solutions are. You would actually be paid to participate. I mean how many people here think you could be a good delegate in a constitutional convention?

Quite a few hands going up! How man people here would like to participate in such a convention, as a delegate, if you were going to be paid and you were allowed time off from work and all these other things? And I’ve been talking to some of these people here and there’s this whole movement here called “The Delivery of Democracy” and I’ve been talking to some of the practitioners of this. And I asked them, you know, are you concerned that, with the complexity of issues facing California, that average people, so to speak, won’t have the expertise to do this? And their response has been, “No”. Because that’s not what you’re bringing those people for. You’re bringing those people for their values. Their values about what’s right and wrong and what’s going to help California. And also because they’re not people who are thinking about “Is this going to affect my re election?” or “Is it going to affect my party’s chances in the next election?” or my friend’s chances of re election? You’re simply there to solve a problem.

You’re sitting across the table, suddenly, with someone who’s your polar opposite. But, you’ve got to find common ground, that’s what you’ve been charged to do by the people of California. And when you have that charge in front of you, it has a great gravity. You’re going to be pushed to rise to your better selves, so to speak.

So, the expertise is built-in by the process itself, by bringing in the experts to testify, by the materials that are prepared based on expert testimony. So you would hear expert testimony on two-thirds budget, you hear the pros of having a two-thirds budget threshold, you hear the cons of having a two-thirds budget threshold.

So, you would bring your values too, is that a good thing or is that a bad thing? Should we change it to 55 percent? To a simple majority? And on a series of questions, you would be asked to weigh in. And then what you would propose would go on the ballot for more average Californians -- so to speak, I hate that term, but I haven’t come up with a better one — citizens of California to decide if they like what you as a group came up with. And so, in some ways, it’s like a massive focus group.

We’re talking about doing this delegate selection that would be about four to five hundred delegates because it has to be broadly representative of California. If it’s not representative of California, it doesn’t have any chance to succeed. If it looks like California, and it comes up with good sensible proposals, that might be the best way to pass the types of budget reform and the great five things that you put forth.

Now there’s no guarantee that the delegates will come up with all those things. They’re not necessarily going to come up with the things that I think are best that I just laid out, I understand that. But, the more I look into it, the more I trust that process than either appointing or electing the delegates because, we can go through the pros and cons of each of those, but there’s a major problem we’ve had with elections in California.

The assembly districts have over four hundred thousand people. And you don’t have public financing because it’ll be expensive, you’re going to have to go and raise money and get the same people, the same organizations, and do endorsements to get money that elected the Legislate. So, we end up with a group of delegates that look just like the Legislate. Well, what’s the point of that? So, there are a lot of details we work out, but there’s no “right” or “wrong” here, there’s no “perfect” here. In some ways, what we’re looking for is the “least worst” method.

Kenneth Miller: Maybe we should go to the audience. We can get a quick couple of thoughts on that and then let’s get to the audience questions.

Audience Question (woman): Sure, just really quickly, I actually think the really bad news or the potential good news here. I was asking if I have to accept the premise of the question which, I’m not sure that I am particularly encouraged, but I think that potentially these are the only ones where potentially we could get some real reform. When I teach my class on campaign finance we talk about “Why does this major reform pass? Why did this happen?” A lot of times it’s because of scandal because of really bad things that get the public’s attention; And, certainly, our current economic crisis with current polls that are showing that people are really disgusted, frankly, with their government, show that maybe this is a time for actual reform. Real reforms are being talked about and discussed, we’re going to vote on an open primary system. We did pass a redistricting proposal, which may or may not have real affects, but certainly it shows that people are, in some way, supporting structural reforms. There are various proposals trying to get money out of the system. I think that this is a huge issue, and in a lot of ways we have at least one hand tied behind our back because of Supreme Court jurisprudence. And, as a result, we’re doing the best we can with issues like public financing. I think public financing, frankly, is going to become less and less viable as a result of a recent Supreme Court decision, and because there are a lot of loopholes. You can still give to legal defense funds, you can still give to inauguration accounts, and there are a lot of obstacles along the way. But I do think people are really seriously talking about reform now. I think the constitutional convention discussion is really productive. And I think that, if things continue to go badly, that it may be we, as a country, can’t afford our dysfunction anymore.

Repeating that question from before, the process of trying to have the voting where you have more than one representative in an area, sounds interesting. My question being, how does it work, because I really haven’t heard of it? And, keeping in mind there will still be people trying to beat the system, will the new process keep you from beating the system by, let’s just say, voting for one person who’s supposed to vote for three?

Steve Hill: There are different methods that can be used, and some might be better for our political culture than others. Some are candidate-based systems, others are party-based systems of proportional representation. But the basic principal is that whatever percentage of the vote of your political party wins, you win that percentage of the seat. So, if your party wins 30 percent of the vote, you get 30 percent of the seats, instead of the current system, you get nothing. If you win 60 percent of the vote, you get 60 percent of the seats, instead of everything. You get 10 percent of the vote, you get 10 percent of the seats, instead of nothing.

And by doing that, a few things happen. One, it opens it up for voters. Now voters look out there in the political landscape, and they can see a political party or a candidate out there who isn’t just the lesser of two evils choice.

They can actually identify with that party or that candidate. I can give you one example. In Germany, which uses this sort of method, a kind of hybrid between what we have now and this method I’m describing. They’ve elected a 19-year-old to the Bundestag, to the national parliament.

I mean, what a concept, that a 19-year-old would get elected. But, because that person’s out there running, and other young people who run as candidates, younger voters who in the United States tend not to turn out, they have a candidate out there they can identify with, and younger people in Germany, you don’t see huge drop offs in voter turnout there that you do in the United States, among young people.

I mean, you think about it from a young person’s point of view, when they look out there on the political landscape and they’re trying to figure out who to vote for, who do they see, for the most part? They see, for the most part, a white guy in a necktie, an older white guy. The fact of the matter is, our system cannot produce the candidates that are needed to engage all the voters out there, where they live and what they think about, and what they’re concerned about.

These methods tend to elect far more woman, into the state, into the legislatures, as another example. Some of them are approaching 50 percent, 40 percent, of the legislatures are women. Look at the United States Congress, you have 16 percent of women there. That’s how many years after the year of the woman. So, you get better representation, you get more choice for voters, and I think there’s a correlation between those two factors and the fact that you see much higher voter turnout. People have more things to vote for. They’re not stuck in these single member, partisan strongholds where the outcome is already determined.

I mean, think about it. In our political system, your choice as a voter is not even between two parties, because both parties are one party fiefdoms. You’re choice is to ratify the candidate of the party that dominates your district. That’s your choice as a voter. Now, someone proposed open primaries, where it’s really the top two primary, I don’t particularly think that’s really going to change things. It’s not going to make things much better, it could make things worse in certain ways. It could wipe out third parties in California. But, you know, we have to grapple with the fact that it’s really the single member district system that we’ve been using for a long, long time that is really the crux of a lot of what I think we’re facing in terms of representation, participation, and even policy discourse, debate, and ultimately the policy that comes out of the legislature. So, it’s a long way of saying that there are different methods, but those are the kinds of impacts you’d expect to see.

Audience Question (man): Does the primary power wedge type when you get so many seats, and then you have your own people in whatever proportion of the seats, they will have some of the various offices and normally will have to be somewhere to get together in order to have a coalition to win, have a majority.

Steve Hill: Yeah, I mean, some of them use rank ballots methods where you are ranking first, second, third choice. Others, you were voting for a party, and its team of candidates, and so you know who that team is. Some of them rotate man to man working on this team of candidates, and so you go and you’re voting for, the Green party or the social Democratic party or the Republican party, whatever it is. This party has its certain values and platforms, and that’s what you’re voting for. You’re voting for their team of candidates.

Audience Question (man): A couple of quick comments, the first one being, you could end up with like the Israeli Knesset, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a step forward. Secondly, I’d like to hear Bruce’s comments on redistricting, since he’s the best informed person on that. But, my major comment is the oversight I think that Bruce is talking about is very important, and I think one of the real problems with term limits is that it’s eliminating the possibility of oversight. I’ve written chapters in two different textbooks on the California executive branch, and I don’t know anything about it. And I’ve looked at all the other textbooks nobody else was thinking about it.

There’s nothing written about the California executive branch below the level of the plural executive and the elected offices. Very few people can name anyone who’s a player, below that level. It’s unstudied, it’s uncovered. The California reporters rarely cover it – not George Skelton in Sacrament or the others, so I see that as a major problem.

Bruce Cain: I think the term limits could add to it. If the members are there for 10 and 12 years, and they’re incentivized to learn about the agencies, then there will be a memory of what was promised one year, and what was actually delivered the next. But failing that, if we can’t do term limit reform, and people want to keep the drastic term limits, then I think we really need to strengthen the non-partisan staff. We have to go to a city council model where we really develop non-partisan staff, insulate them from political interference.

Take the auditing function, which now, the legislature has to ask for audits, but what we should do is mandate that agencies get audited on a regular basis. That the reports should be put online.

I think we should start using the energy of the Internet in getting outside groups and non-profit groups to be involved in the auditing process, or in the oversight process, to put pressure on the legislature. So, I think there’s more we can do, imaginatively, to enhance the oversight.

But I agree with you. I think there’s lack of transparency. I mean, some of the problems that you see, this is heresy and if the President found out I think like this I frankly wouldn’t keep my position. But I frankly think that some of the problems that you see would have been addressed earlier if there had been proper oversight, and there had been discussion with the legislature about what the motivation is.

I mean, some of the consultation scandals were motivated by a real problem, but I think the way USD handled it, in a kind of secretive fashion, was wrong. And it wouldn’t have happened if there had been oversight from the higher education committee. I just think the original Madisonian idea of checks and balances is an important idea in a pluralistic society, and we’ve lost that in California.

Bruce Cain: On the margin, redistricting probably will get us back to where we were in 1990 when the court did the redistricting. The court did the redistricting in 1990 and they did it in 1974. And the legislature did it in 1981 and did it in the last round of redistricting. What you have to realize is that during that whole period in the ‘90s when the court did a redistricting that nobody thought was gerrymandered, we only had 14 congressional units, 52 congressional seats in those days. Only 14 of them over the whole decade flipped. And the partisanship level of both the state legislature and the congress went up.

It gets back to what Steve was saying. That, plus the social sorting that’s going on in California. There is a very good book by Bill Bishop on The Big Sort is a popular account of a lot of academic research that pointed out that people make choices about living with people that are like themselves, which creates these pockets of homogeneity, which makes it very hard to create competitive seats.

You can’t create competitive seats in downtown Los Angeles, OK. They aren’t enough Republicans. And similarly, parts of the southern part of Orange County or out in the rural areas, you can’t create competitive seats for the Democrats. You just can’t do it other than what Steve said, creating really wildly, crazy districts.

So, we have to understand there’s a limit to what can be done to the redistricting process. But that said, it should get us back to where we were in the ‘90s, which is, according to some work that we’ve done, the projections that we’ve done, should get you back to having approximately a fifth of the seats being potentially competitive. That would be the goal.

Steve Hill: I just want to make one quick observation, something about Israel. I think you have to be careful to extrapolate from the experience of one country and make a universal rule about it. I mean, if you think about it, all of our process is used by Algeria, Angola, India, and we don’t have the problems of those countries. So, I mean every country is different. I mean Israel has been in a state of war for 40 years virtually. I would be reluctant to make any broad conclusions based on Israel’s experience.

And you can raise the threshold. Israel, for many years, only needed one percent of the vote to win a seat. By raising that threshold to 5 percent, like they have in Germany and other places, it suggests that you will get four or five political parties. They get elected. And two of them will lead the parties, and three or four will be minor parties that tend to ebb and flow depending on what the issues are of the times.

The minor parties become a kind of laboratory for new ideas in a system like that. The major parties then start co-opting in a sense. You get this conversation between the center and the margins that I think, is actually good for democracy without getting the fallout you get in a place like Israel with a 1 percent threshold.

Audience Question (man): For Jessica, you mentioned before that through the initiative process we could probably alleviate some of the problems slowly by handling them one at a time. One of the problems that I see with our particular form of government is that no one is accountable. We have a minority party saying no to things just to say no, because they don’t have to do it. Nobody is holding them accountable, because we can put it on an initiative. Let the voters figure it out.

What are we electing these people for? I mean, what do they do up there? That’s my position. Why do we elect people and say go up and do something, and then have no accountability for those people to do anything, which is what they’ve done?

Jessica Levinson: I think accountability is a huge issue, and I’m actually filling in for Alexander Valentine from California Forward and one of their three main proposals is to try to increase the accountability. I think that a lot of people don’t know who represents them. I think that a unicameral legislature could help. So, that there’s actually, while there’s more people, there are smaller districts. You actually have some sense that you know who’s representing you. I mean I was asking my class — this is a class of law students who decided to take the class in election law — do you know who your representative is? Assembly, senate, city council? And the answer is almost always quite often no, which is really troubling.

So, one solution I think is to get more representatives — I mean that is odd for me to say because we are so unhappy with them right now. But I think in the bicameral system that we have it is very easy for the senate to say that ‘it was the Assembly’ and then the assembly can say ‘no obviously it was the Senate.’ So that is one solution that I can think of.

The other is I think there is just a general discussion on who we are sending in and I think that there is certainly the feeling that people are tied to special interests.

I know I have mentioned this before but to the extent possible trying to limit the amount of money goes into the pockets of the people we send to Sacramento or our city hall. I think also it will increase at least the sense that people are accountable to their constituents and not accountable to who ever gave the largest donation or was able to make the most successful advertising on behalf of that candidate or against that candidate. To the extent possible I think that if we feel that we have a closer relationship and know the people we are representing and hold them accountable, we can say, no actually it was your fault and we were going to vote you out. And I think that if you have more competitive districts...I see you shaking your head and I would be glad to talk with you after but this is my solution to the problem.

Audience Question (man): My question I guess would for anyone on the panel. With the region shifting and the open primary and the universal voter registration how likely is it that politicians would want to do this? As it is California is democratic so if you would open it up to universal voter registration which would open it up to young people, club people, poor people which basically lean towards democratic which would totally ruin the Republican Party.

Kenneth Miller: To phrase this one as a political scientist would, how do you get the rule makers to change the rules that elected those same rule makers?

Bruce Cain: We have actually had redistricting reform already. It was kind of a miracle because what happened was term limits under cut the incentive of the legislature to really fight for the district lines because they are not in them long enough to care about them. So ironically, that made it possible; the outgoing speaker didn’t spend any money and in the end people were just not willing to fight the fight. So we already had the redistrict reform. The Top Two primary, I don’t see them being helping any one party. It is a very unusual system that is only used in Louisiana and some of the claims that are made for it and Washington State, too are basically unproven. So we don’t know what the effects will be. We could speculate until we are blue in the face but we don’t know what the effects will be.

Kenneth Miller: Would you explain to us more about the Top Two Primary?

Bruce Cain: OK. The Top Two primary is a proposal that has evolved because the blank primary in which we had, you may recall, a number years ago we were able to vote for any candidate we wanted in the primary regardless of party and regardless of office. We could vote for Democratic for governor, Republican candidate for Lt. Governor and would be allowed and now it is ruled unconstitutional in a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. And so the idea is what will the court allow? The court will allow something called the Top Two primary, because it is not a party primary and so it doesn’t violate the party’s rights.

It basically says the top two, regardless of any party can go forward and therefore it is not a primary, but it kind of hinges on a very narrow judicial interpretation. So how does the system work? It just simply says again like in a blank primary all the candidates will be listed on the ballad and the top two will go forward.

And as somebody pointed out it means that it could be two Democrats going forward or it could be two Republicans going forward.

And it really depends upon the number of candidates that are there and the coordination of the consultants, because the consultants, if you had three very good Democratic candidates, or four very good Democratic candidates and it was a 50/50 seat and you only had two Republicans, in theory the two Republicans could go forward and the Democrats could split the vote.

So it’s really a very contingent prediction you could make, so you can’t be so certain that the Democrats would be favored by that.

Universal registration, you have a stronger case that that might have a partisan effect. It’s debated in the literature, and so it’s not obvious in the political science literature because it turns out that a lot of people that don’t vote are either apolitical or they’ve moved and for whatever reason they haven’t gotten re registered, and a fair amount of them are actually Republicans. We had a colleague, Greg Wollenger, who made a career out of reminding people that those predictions are not so clear.

But I share your intuition that that political science literature might be wrong. It’s based on surveys where people are not always truthful, so I think it’s quite possible that it could be a boon to the Democratic Party. And yes, I think the Republican Party would probably fight it since they would not want to have a system like that.

Audience Question (woman): This is for Dr. Hill. I’m a little confused on the constitutional convention and I wish that you could explain the procedure. Are we talking about a total constitutional convention where we throw out the current constitution and it’s over 500 amendments, and write from scratch? Are we talking about a constitutional revision with the delegates to this convention told to just look at certain aspects?

And let’s say they work for some years and reach a consensus. From the large number that you had mentioned, I don’t see how this happens. Let’s assume they reach a convention that would then have to go to the state legislature to be approved? And if it’s a constitutional question it would require two-thirds of the legislators, and then go to the voters with another two-thirds. And with so many special interests opposed to certain parts, after all that work it would be denied.

Steven Hill: Yeah, I’ll give you just a few more details. The proposal that’s been sort of made is that it would be a limited convention, limited to the following four areas: governance and sort of the function of the administration, elections and initiatives, budgets, and the relationship between local and state government in terms of revenue. So those would be the four areas that the delegates would weigh in on, and there would be specific parts of the constitution that it would be safe to look at this part but not at this part. So the things about social issues and all the different issues, managing healthcare, education, that would not be on the table.

These terms are, they’re sort of fuzzy. Some people’s revision is the constitutional amendment and so, especially with Prop 8, it’s not clear what’s a revision anymore, I think is what a lot of people feel about that. So there are some legal experts looking at this and saying that whatever we call it, it can be done. This way you can have a limited call. It would be the delegates would meet, they would meet for probably about a year or so, and then they would propose things that would go directly on the ballot.

Audience Question (woman): So the proposal to get it going, that would be through the initiative process?

Steven Hill: Through the initiative process. In November 2010, you can see two ballot measures. The first one would change the way we call constitutional conventions. Currently, only the state legislature with a two-thirds vote can call a constitutional convention. So the first vote, question one, proposition one if you will, would change the constitution to allow the people to call a convention. The second question for proposition would call the convention with all different rules, delegate selections and how would we staff, how much it would cost, all the different details would that have to be in that in order for voters to make an informed choice.

Audience Question (woman): And then would it go back to the legislature?

Steven Hill: No. Once the delegates come up with a proposal, it would not go back to the legislature. It would go directly to the voters to decide. Yes sir. By simple majority. Voters would decide by simple majority. That’s the current proposal that’s being floated.

Audience Question (man): My question is actually right in line with that one. You need to take it further; what is the process and what are the politics that will decide — I mean there’s a lot of issues there that has to be described, in order an hypothetical proposition too, as far as how it works. What is the process and the politics for the writing of what is going to be an elected appointed and jury pool system? How do we get these delegates? Who’s deciding on it? How does that get started? It seems to me that a jury pool, which you advocate, would put the fear of God and it would solve the special interest power, special interest we have in the state. Who decides that?

Steven Hill: There is an organization right now called Repair California that’s sort of an ad hoc coalition. And it’s driven mostly by an organization called Bay Area Council, which is actually a business consortium of the 500 largest companies in the Bay area, that served initially for this idea out there, and have been present at town halls throughout the state with local partners sort of putting ideas out there, getting feedback and such. So they’re going to sit down and write this thing. Although the next couple weeks, because this process has been going on now for almost a year in terms of discussing it. And in terms of the sorts of details that they’re going to put into it, I mean some of us have been advising them, but we don’t really know.

We’ve been doing polling, recently polling out all the different ideas. They just released part of the poll that shows that 73 percent of support in California for a Constitutional Convention. And that matches the poll that we did, my organization, the Numeric Foundation, did in November of 2006 showed 75 percent support.

So I think this is something California do support doing. But again, the devil is in the details. I’m certainly going to be railing you by cross and we’ll produce a good product there. And others like (inaudible) too as well. You can go to the website,, and you can type in your thoughts on how you think the constitutional convention should be structured.

Bruce Cain: But, I mean there is a deep irony here, which is this idea of a Constitutional convention will be more in a very undemocratic process, right. Because our initiative process, when it comes to the formation, is not a democrat process. I mean, whoever set the agenda has enormous amounts of power. And eventually people will get signatures. But, as we know, the signature gathering process in California is highly professionalized. We can get almost anything we wanted qualified for the ballot if we had enough money.

So I’m not blaming the Bay Area Council here. They’re extremely honorable people and the American Foundation, which involves very honorable people who have the best of intentions. But, it is an irony that, in order to get this started, we have to start with a very undemocratic process.

Steven Hill: Can I just make one quick comment? I agree with what you’re saying and it will work within the limitations of the system as it is. And you’re right. The initial process is driven by some Silicon Valley gazillionaire who pulls out their wallet and pays their way on the ballot, with their favorite pet project. I mean, the ballot’s dead, right. The one thing I will say, in terms on behalf of the Repair California coalition that I’m impressed with, is that they said they’ve done 15, 20 town halls around the state. Really I think it’s sincerely listening to what people are saying. Listening to people such as yourself as well, Bruce, about how you do this. You know, this is a group of mostly business people. They’ve never done anything like this before. They’re not so arrogant to think that they know what’s best. They’re trying to get to the best views I believe.

The other thing that they are saying they’re going to do, which I think is quite interesting, is instead of using this professiona; industry that Bruce referred to as professional signature gathererers, they want to take the money because for 2000 it will probably cost for a number of signature, we’re talking five, six million dollars.

They want to take that money instead of paying $2 per signature, which is what we usually do, they want to give the money to groups around the state to organize their constituencies to go out and gather those signatures with all volunteer labor. Some of us have tried to say to them, are you sure? That sounds like its really noble but that may not work.

And they seem to be very sincere, they are so disgusted with the private professional signature gathering industry, how the initiative process becomes so broken by that whole phenomenon, that they want to try to even qualify these things in a different way.

So yes, what you’re saying, and there’s something different going on here that I think is actually, we should think about and pay attention to.

Audience Question (woman): This is for Jessica Levinson. Can your organization in California Forward. Do they have a plan of which areas that initiatives for change, which would come first, second, third and so forth, is that planned? And are they going to gather their signatures with voluntary help as we did for Proposition 11? Common Cause and the League of Women Voters did a lot of that collecting.

Jessica Levinson: I’m actually representing the Center for Governmental Studies but I’m subbing in for Alexandra Valentine, and I think that CGS where I work and California Forward where she works do you see eye to eye on a lot of these issues. I can very briefly go down what I’ve discussed with her about it in terms of their proposals for reform. I think the first and foremost would be the budget process, and one of the things they talk about is requiring that new programs have their own funding source. So whenever you propose, well, let’s do X. Well, where are we going to get the money? You need to have that set in place. That seems to me to be a pretty common sense approach to the budget process.

The second issue they talk about with respect to the budget is a two-year budget cycle. Instead of every year we go through this arduous, wrenching process. It’s a longer process, it’s more forward looking, and we don’t get mired down every year and end up as it is now, always being late in our budget. Potentially, I think that their idea is it allows for a bit more flexibility. They also discuss reducing the two-thirds requirement. I think a lot of people who are talking about reforming the budget process really feel that this two-thirds requirement forces us to get stuck in the muck, and it’s very hard to get Republicans on the other side of the aisle to agree over budget.

The second major area of reform for California Forward, they call it bringing the government closer to the people. They talk about protecting local revenue and they say give local governments legal ownership of specific funds for community services. This again speaks to the issue of more local control, which Dr. Cain talked about. I think it makes a lot of sense.

Then finally, they have a third major area of reform that’s constituent access and accountability. Now, under that they talk about term limit reform. Again, this is the same idea that I discussed before, 14 years in either House, 14 years only in the Senate, 14 years only in the Assembly, or some combination, as opposed to what we have. I hope I’m not reversing this-now, where it’s six years in the Assembly, and then eight years in the Senate. I actually think it, yeah.

And then finally, under this broader issue of constituent access and accountability, California Forward would propose that legislators have to spend some percentage of time in their home districts, not in Sacramento, talking with their constituents, actually spending time in areas that they’re representing.

So I hope that answers your question.

Audience Question (man): Actually, let me just say, can you also describe the constellation of players. You mentioned Bay Area Council, who are they, we’ve got that. But who’s California Forward, and all that?

Bruce Cain: Well, all right. California Forward is also a group, a five-person group of largely businesses, but they were primarily brought together by foundations. There were a series of foundations, Hewlett-Packard, Irvine. Commonwealth Club, which is not a foundation, was one of them, so a whole bunch of groups that came together. Their leadership changed somewhat. Panetta was in charge and now it’s Hertzberg. But it is interesting that the two major groups were California Forward or -- we’re talking about the rest of California — they’re largely driven by the business community. Again, I’m not sure how it’s going to get received when it finally comes forward. But I think you were asking the question, strategically what are they going to do? And actually Tim may want to comment on this, because it turns out he’s written a book about such topics. But the question here is, if you decide to do these sweeping measures through amendment, what do you have to be careful about?

How many of them can you put on and not overwhelm the voters? How many of them can you put and not violate the single subject rule, or the revision versus amendment rule?

Now the single subject rule says that a proposition can only be on a single subject. Now that doesn’t mean it has to be a one liner. You could conceivably put things under a subject heading and then say 10 things about that. You could put under accountability, maybe two or three things, but we have had some measures thrown out for putting things together that had not a functional connection but sort of just a peripheral connection. So you have to be careful about that.

And the other is the revision versus amendment distinction, which came up in the Prop eight case. The idea is that at some level of quantity and quality, you go from merely amending the constitution to revising it. What is that quantity, and what is that qualitative change? The court won’t tell you.

We do know from the Prop eight that you can mess with some fairly important things, like the role of the judiciary and the court may call that under your amendment. So there seems to be some leeway, but there’s a lot of legal risk. I think all these groups are weighing the whole issue of legal risk, even with respect to the convention. Because I sit in on these phone calls, and I listen to it.

They worry a lot that because “convention” is defined as electing delegates that a measure which gives the people the right to call the convention and changes the method of election to include some appointed people is a step too far. Because, you’re both changing the how to call a convention, and you’re changing the definition of what a convention is to have appointed people -- volunteers. So the idea is that you would be totally scrubbed of having any political interest.

And what he should have asked you is, how many of you have ever given money to a candidate? How many of you have ever tried to run for office? You know there’s a whole bunch of things that will disqualify you from being a potential delegate. They want people that have had no political involvement whatsoever.

And see that’s where I part company with them, because I spend my time trying to get kids to get involved in politics. And I think the more you’re involved, the more learned you get. They want people that are scrubbed, that’s their word, scrubbed clean of any kind of taint. I worry very much about what that group will be demographically and what they will know about the system. So that’s being debated hotly. But the point is the strategies on this have a legal dimension and a political dimension. I don’t know; do you want to say anything about the potential legal liabilities on these strategies?

Kenneth Miller: Yeah. As Bruce mentioned, there are problems, given the constraints on the California constitution, on what you can do to initiate a process. And the single subject rule, no revision rule, the California supreme court has been less strict in enforcing this rule than some other state supreme courts. Florida comes to mind and some others. Nevertheless, I think the more that you’re trying to pack into any given initiative, the more at risk you are of violating the single subject rule, and there’s a rationale for this. You don’t want to pack together a lot of different proposals, and you sort of have a sweetener in there that might attract support. The people might support that but not others, a certain mandatory log rolling and other difficulties of this sort of omnibus bill. That’s the rationale behind the single subject rule.

So in some ways, doing it as a revision with a cleaner, more practical way type of thing — sort of doing item by item and packing positive things, etc., as separate issues.

Since I’m not seeing a hand up, I think I will ask one of my own which is, is this whole week, in the best traditions of academia, namely much ado about nothing? Because if at the end of the day, the California constitution requires that we put something before the voters, and despite the best efforts of our friend Thad Cowser, we simply can’t seem to convince Californians to vote for any reform unless we package it as going against the OBC lines along the American River. That cancels Sacramento. Is the only way to save California, despite the crisis we’re in, to package the whole thing really disingenuously and say we’re going to get them, even though maybe the reform isn’t even aimed at them?

Jessica Levinson: I’ll give a really quick answer. The first answer is I think, no, because we’re educating people. I think these are great discussions, so hopefully it’s not much ado about nothing for that reason. The California Constitutional Convention could come to nothing. I think you used the term “stillborn.” The benefit of a California constitutional convention could be that we have a larger session without confidence of reform in California.

The detriment could be the really bad PR of it. We go through this very expensive, arduous process. There are a lot of really interesting legal issues in terms of revisions and even getting to get a constitutional convention, and then maybe nothing will happen. Will that actually be more detrimental, and will people think look, nothing ever happens? But I’m still optimistic enough to think that the discussion really is worthwhile.

Bruce Cain: I hope you’re not right about that but it might. It’s possible. There’s a possibility that on certain items, like the pay-go revision, there might be bipartisan consensus. The problem is the academic literature is very clear that these pay-go things are easily abated, and I don’t know that you can... Pay-go is that you say you can’t enact a bill unless you identify a source of revenue. Sorry, I slipped into the lingo. But I do think that there may be a few things that are going to get on the ballot that came of the California Forward proposals. Those proposals are quite exotic, imaginative and outside the box. They may be good; they may be bad. But the California forward ones are a little bit more mainstream, and they have some Republicans who have thought about this and gotten involved. The history in California is the more bipartisan support, the more likely it’s going to pass.

Now the legislature is going to take up constitutional reform. The problem is it’s a two-thirds vote getting in the legislature. I don’t think they’re going to do anything. They might do the pay go one, or they might do a few of the other proposals, the two year budget cycle. There are some things that they might get bipartisan consensus on and do out of the legislature.

I suspect other things will come through the amendment process, like the move to majority voting on the budget. I think that one is almost certainly going to be an amendment that will occur before the constitutional convention gets called at all. And then I think the constitutional convention, that’s a long shot. To be honest, the worst thing that could happen to the convention idea for the state is for the economy to recover. Because if the economy recovers in 18 months, which is what some of the projections are, then I will tell you right now that the forces of inertia will say, “No, we don’t need this.”

If on the other hand, the economy continues to be in crisis, then people may be more open to dealing with the dysfunction in a systematic way. But to be honest, I think that the economy is so robust in California that the dysfunction doesn’t seem to hold it back, and therefore we’ll probably get a repeat of what happened in the 1990s. So that’s why I think the California Forward idea is probably the most likely thing to come through, and they’ll come through as amendments and maybe some of them will come through the legislature.

As an analyst that’s what I think is most likely going to happen. I think the convention probably will end up being a way to scare the legislature and other people in the mainstream into doing something. Because when they listen to Steve, they go, “Oh my God!”

And if enough people say, “Oh my God!” they might do something that’s incrementally better. So I think we ought to send him around the state. It’s my experience that one problem with doing reform when times are terrible is it’s like going to the doctor when your foot hurts, your arm hurts, your head hurts, you’re too hot, you’re too cold, your stomach is bothering you... I mean, there are almost too many medicines. And then what starts to happen is everybody goes into the medicine cabinet and pulls out everything they’ve ever thought of that might also be a good thing to do. Then that leads to other ideas of other things that somebody else also thought that were good ideas to do.

And I think the voter doesn’t get very much help from that. I think at the end of the day the hardest thing for those on the inside of this process is to really do a good diagnosis first. Of, A: what is the problem in other words, cut through all the things that are wrong, find the problem, and find the one or two things that might make the real difference.

And resist the temptation to take every reform that anybody has ever thought of and try to throw it in and make a soup out of it. Because it will become a soup.

Because my experience with reform is you usually get maybe one thing done, maybe two things done. What I’d really love to see is have everybody try to figure out what’s that one or two things. So it’s almost like the very benefit of the misery we’re in is clouding our minds, because it’s encouraging us to take every medicine possible.

As messed up as our state is, it can’t possibly mean that we need to do 15 different things to fix it. There has to be a more compact form to that.

Kenneth Miller: Yeah, and that’s why I think the California Forward — I think they’ve fit your definition. I think they’ve thought about what are the marginal, incremental things and then solved the larger crisis. There may be a few other that they haven’t considered, but I think that’s more likely. I think the Bay Area Council’s proposals are a bit more in the category of what you’re talking about there. You want to say something?

Audience Question (man): I guess I have one counter example in mind, which is the special election of 1911, where Hiram Johnson, newly elected Progressive Republican Governor, he was 27, the constitution amendment is on the ballot in front of the voters including initiative referendum recalling but also many other progressive reforms all as a package.

Jessica Levinson: It gave women the right to vote.

Bruce Cain: Women the right to vote, yeah, regulation of utilities, existing railroads, lots of different things all in one package. Voters favorably responded to that big reform agenda, so it is potentially the case that we could be in a position to repeat something big like that.

Well, let me give a counter-counter-counter. Which is that there was a very coherent philosophy that was tying all those reforms together. That was the great moment of progressive reform and everybody knew what those all meant and why each of them needed to be in there because they were part of a coherent philosophy. I have a feeling here -- and again, not with the California Forward solution — the others feel like going into the medicine cabinet and pulling out everything that everybody has ever mentioned, which is not what Hiram Johnson was doing.

I think you could have an average voter who understands that every one of these things was about limiting the power of special interests in the railroads and others and creating more direct democracy. Here it feels much more like a hodgepodge of anything anybody has ever thought of, and some things we’ve had never thought of.

Kenneth Miller: Thanks. It’s seven o’clock. I want to thank our panelists and our audience also for participating.

— Transcription by CastingWords

Related Links:

“A Constitutional Convention: The Big Picture”

California’s June 2010 ballot measures

About Bruce Cain

About Steven Hill

About Jessica A. Levinson

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