News & Views from 465 California Street

Repair California

Clint Reilly

The 2010 California governor’s race is just around the corner. Barring a dramatic change, Jerry Brown has already clinched the Democratic nomination. And unless Steve Poizner gets his act together or Tom Campbell comes into an unexpected trove of cash, Meg Whitman will be the GOP nominee.

The stage will then be set for a high-stakes November showdown between two Northern California celebrities to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But another issue on the same ballot may have a greater impact on California’s future than who is elected governor. If enough valid signatures are collected to qualify, California voters could be calling a constitutional convention to reform state government.

God knows the Capitol desperately needs reform. I certainly think so. That’s why I recently signed on to help lead a citizen’s movement to change it. I left my quiet niche on the sidelines and joined a campaign to allow California citizens to rewrite the Golden State’s outmoded and archaic constitution. You can help too, by signing up at

Have you noticed that it doesn’t seem to matter who is elected because the system they are called upon to manage is dysfunctional, broken down or corrupt?

Californians thought they were electing a true independent when they recalled Gray Davis and installed Schwarzenegger as governor.

Disgusted with his handling of the state budget, voters rode Davis out of town on a rail. But the star that displaced him on the political marquee has headlined in multiple billion-dollar budget dramas that far outpace anything Californians endured during the Davis years.

In truth, Schwarzenegger is a hard-working, intelligent, charismatic public servant trapped in a Sacramento sinkhole; it would swallow up even George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers.

California is no ordinary state. The frontier region of the 1870s has matriculated into America’s largest state, the world’s entertainment capital, high-tech epicenter and agricultural bread basket. We are a virtual nation-state, boasting the world’s eighth largest economy.

And yet we’re operating with a constitution written in 1878 that has been hacked and distorted beyond recognition. Our constitution is the third longest in the world and has been amended more than 500 times. Why does California’s constitution require 75,000 words when the finest such document ever written – the United States Constitution – contains only 4,500?

We can send the best people to Sacramento, but if the system they work within is inherently dysfunctional, how can we expect to enjoy a functional government?

After years of annual budget shortfalls and budget melodrama, 2009 brought a $20-plus billion gap between revenues and projected expenditures. For months, the state that once symbolized opportunity, invention and a spirit of enterprise became an international symbol of bloated government and failed promise.

Now comes the dark sequel: a $36 billion deficit forecast over the next 18 months, which will add to the pain of a 12 percent unemployment rate and stall the recovery of America’s most important regional economy.

But the budget would only be one item on the agenda of a constitutional convention.

Why are legislators less important than lobbyists in Sacramento? The iconic early 20th century editorial cartoon showing lobbyist Artie Samish dangling the legislature by puppet strings is still true. The convention would take a hard look at this institutional scandal.

Talk to your local city council member or your elected county supervisor and chances are they’re both fuming at Sacramento for balancing the state budget by stealing money from schools, police, fire and other locally funded services. The constitutional convention could rebalance power between state and local government so vital services cannot be held hostage.

Do we really need more than 4,000 governmental jurisdictions in California? It’s time to hit the reset button. Only constitutional change can rewrite the rules and impose discipline.

Every election features candidates spouting the same stale messages in their quest for office. Next year, however, Californians will have the opportunity to empower themselves. With a vote for the constitutional convention, citizens can take back their government, restore sanity to Sacramento and renew the fading California Dream.

Comments (10)

  • A constitutional convention. It sounds like a feast for the lobbyists. They will outnumber the delegates 10 to 1. The first thing the big government crowd will go after is Proposition 13. Repealing that will open a new spigot of money for them to spend.

    Posted by: Banjo | December 22nd, 2009 at 5:47 pm

  • Bravo Clint

    Posted by: Michael Mulcahy | December 24th, 2009 at 3:45 pm

  • Clint:
    Excellent column in Mercury News. I always read them. Wishing you all the
    Pat B

    Posted by: Pat B. | December 25th, 2009 at 5:43 pm

  • Hello Mr Reilly

    I read your article of today concerning the subject, and I agree with your
    assessment of the current condition of the State.

    However, it seems to me that by merely telling us the constitution
    consist of 75000 words and that it should be completely rewritten is insufficient
    for us to commit to a favorable vote.

    I consider myself to be somewhat intelligent, but I haven’t the slightest
    idea what’s wrong with our constitution. Even if I read it diligently, I
    don’t think I could understand the evils that lurk. I’m sure that its
    been so convoluted and confused that even a Philadelphia lawyer wouldn’t be
    able to comprehend its meaning. What we need are some specifics and not just
    generalities. What the heck is it that needs to be eliminated? If we
    created a new Constitution, what should be precisely included. Shouldn’t we
    just limit it to
    the basics?

    I believe that the taxpayers are afraid that to give the legislators
    additional latitude, as their solution to all of California’s problems are to
    continually raise taxes. They can’t stop blaming proposition 13 for all of
    the State’s ills. I can remember when the voters were coerced and lied to
    by getting us to vote for a 5 cent per gallon of gas sold. This was to
    provide funds for all the repairs to our roads and highways. What a joke.
    The roads and bridges are barely usable.

    And, who would be involved in the creation of a new constitution? I
    certainly don’t believe that it should involve existing legislators or lawyers,
    who usually tend to “screw” up most ideas or programs so that things are
    worse after they get their “greedy hands” into anything. Perhaps retired
    individuals who have nothing to personally gain and who have in mind only
    the interest of the State and its future

    Perhaps we could get the people of the state behind this by publishing a
    list of things that are seriously wrong with the current constitution, and
    getting the average resident to understand the problems and demand

    What do you think, Mr Reilly?

    Best regards,


    Posted by: Dan | December 25th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

  • Good morning Clint:

    I would like to compliment you on your fine articles on California

    If only we had politicians who thought as clearly, intelligently, and
    from a non-self serving prospective as you do, we would have a much
    better state.

    I have lived in California for over 30 years. Over the years I have
    accumulated thousands of reasons why “I love California” but I must
    admit that the additions to my list seem to come more and more
    infrequently these days.

    I have gotten caught in the economic downturn and have decided that
    part of my own rescue package is to sell our beautiful home here in
    Marin County and move to Austin Texas. Some people call Austin the
    “San Francisco of Texas” so we are hopeful that we can find happiness
    there without the craziness of modern day California.

    Please keep up your good work and maybe in time you and others with
    your vision can turn California into the Golden State of my youthful
    dreams (from Pittsburgh PA) again.


    Jack (and Judy) W

    Posted by: Jack & Judy | December 25th, 2009 at 5:45 pm

  • Clint:

    I enjoyed your column about the need for a Constitutional Convention to
    reform the way our state government works.

    How does this work? Who are the delegates to such convention and how
    are the delegates selected? I could foresee a situation where the self-same
    dysfunctionals who compose our Legislature now could become the
    delegates to a convention meant to change things.

    Perhaps a future column of yours could spell out the process for a
    Constitutional Convention, or direct us to a source for such information?

    Keep up the good work!


    Bob F

    Posted by: Bob F. | December 25th, 2009 at 5:47 pm

  • Mr. Reilly, While I generally find your columns intriguing, I must take
    issue with several statements in your last column. One is the notion
    that California’s governance issues are due to “bloated” government.
    Facts and statistics do not support your contentions here. In fact,
    California is among the lowest states in the country in terms of the
    number of state employees as a proportion of the overall population.
    The source of much of our troubles lies in the initiative process which
    has effectively guaranteed gridlock in Sacramento. The 2/3 vote
    requirement and Proposition 13′s limitations on property taxation has
    been an enormous windfall to the state’s business community while
    essentially consigning the state to continued fiscal misery.

    State employees are not the source of the state’s fiscal woes. Our
    salaries have largely been fixed (or even diminished) since 2006.
    Pension costs and retiree health benefits are a source of substantial
    liabilities, however, for a significant period during the bull market in
    the 1990′s and (to a lesser extent) during the Bush years the state did
    not have to make any independent contribution to pension expenses
    because of how well Calpers’s investment portfolio was performing.

    I agree that the state’s constitution is is drastic need of reform.
    Perhaps one measure that should be considered is eliminating initiatives
    as a vehicle for amending the constitution.

    Posted by: Jason Z | December 25th, 2009 at 5:48 pm

  • Yes, I concur it is time to hit the reset button. We do not need more than 4000
    governmental jurisdictions. Many of agencies could and should merge.

    I remember when I served for 14 years on the Concord City Council that many of these
    agencies were constantly raising their fees and expanding their budgets. The public
    had very little access or knowledge of what was going on. Most of their public
    meetings were held at 3:00 in the afternoon while most people were working, or today
    looking for employment. East bay Sanitary District, East Bay Mosquito District,
    Contra Costa Water District, East Bay Mudd, and so on…

    When I walked precincts throughout our city in the 80′s and 90′s most resident
    believed that the City Council was responsible for the School District’s

    budget. I tried to explain that although we served the same families we were
    separate entities I left their doorstep with puzzling, confused looks. Currently, I
    teach a Pittsburgh High, Government of course. I want a speker to come to my
    classroom and clearly identify why our outdated constitution is broken and most
    importantly their is an opportunity to change it. Their are thousands of seniors
    whose energies could be mobolized to get involved for community service credits.
    Our classes all resume statewide in January and our 2nd semester begins at the end
    of Januray. These students all have a big stake in this state and their futures.
    They are all watchin’ everything fall apart. Let ‘s get moblized and movin’. We
    got the resouces sitting in high school campuses thoughout the state. Colleen C

    Posted by: Colleen C. | December 25th, 2009 at 5:52 pm

  • Jason Z up there is an example of how when you are part of the problem there is a good chance you don’t even know there is a problem.

    Posted by: Banjo | December 26th, 2009 at 5:00 am

  • Mr. Reilly,

    I have been watching the Constitutional Conventions effort with some
    interest now. I have read much of the Founders Convention in 1787 through
    the records of Max Farrand. I read the 1849 Convention for California as
    well as the records for 1878-9. I am well versed in this method of reform.

    I do agree with you assessment of the problems in this state. At the same
    time, I would like to see more people talk about some solutions. I do
    believe that is the duty of the convention, to be sure. At the same time, I
    have been analyzing the issues at hand as well as the problems and
    solutions. I have come to realize that the biggest problem that we have in
    California is lack of representation.

    We have 40 Senators and 80 Assembly members for 38,000,000 people. We have
    the worst representation in the Nation!

    This is why the budgets are so out of balance, this is why none of the
    incumbents ever lose and its why we are in the mess we are in.

    I have a case on the topic. It is detailed here on my website:

    I like how people like yourself can openly come out and say our system is
    “broken” and are even further willing to even say it is “Corrupt” because it
    is! It is generally not politic to say this, but I think we need to be
    “Candid” about our current system of dis-order.

    In any event, In my research and my case, I argue that representation does
    need to advance with the population. The more people our representatives do
    represent, the less valuable each of our votes become.

    Our elections have become more and more compromised. Once elected, there is
    a greater chance that you lose office due to a sexual indiscretion than you
    are likely to be voted out! Incumbents do not lose.

    I have been a life long Republican. I just finished working on an election
    down in Santa Barbara and in some of my work, I deal directly with lots of
    citizens, so I get to hear lots of ideas and feedback from various people.
    One Gentleman said something that I think I have heard before, but have
    never really thought through. He said, “You should always hope for a strong
    opposition because it keeps your candidates honest!”

    The California Assembly began with 36 reps in 1850, the population was
    92,000. It was increased to 63 in 1852 for a population of 150,000. It was
    increased to its final size of 80 in 1854 for a population of 207,000. The
    Senate Started at 16 Members in 1850 and went through several increases
    until it was frozen at 40 when the population was about 500,000. The State
    now has 38,000,000!

    40 Senators for 38,000,000 is not adequate!
    80 Assembly members for 38,000,000 is not adequate!

    This absolutely needs to be looked at. It is the key issue that is breaking
    our State!

    Anyway, I have said enough. I hope it is food for thought!

    Michael W

    Posted by: Michael W. | December 28th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

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