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Repairing California

By James Goldsborough

Having just driven the state for the first time in a few years, conversed with Californians about all manner of problems and observed places I hadn’t seen for a while, I return to San Diego in a dubious state of mind. I wrote recently that California’s population in 1978, the year Proposition 13 was passed, was 21 million, about half what it is today. The state government we had in 1978 clearly no longer works in 2009.
I’ll say this about a recession: It concentrates people’s minds on the trees and makes the forest invisible. How can you think about big issues when you’ve lost your job, health coverage and can’t pay the mortgage? The economic system we so recklessly constructed over the past generation, one based on cheap credit, self-regulation, low taxes, lax immigration and federal aid, is collapsing, and it’s become each man for himself.
A few years ago I participated in a conference in Sacramento on breaking California in two, which, given our problems, is not as eccentric a notion as it might seem. Because nearly all the state’s northern counties favor the idea (27 of 31 have supported it in advisory votes), the state Assembly long ago voted to put dividing California on a statewide ballot, though it so far has been blocked in the Senate.
Various plans for the division have been advanced over the years including an East-West split, but the most serious study, done by the Assembly’s Office of Research, would divide the state at the Tehachapis, recreating the historic division of the Spanish era into “Alta” (given to the Franciscans) and “Baja” (to the Dominicans) California.
A 75-page booklet titled “Two New Californias: An Equal Division,” is available from the Assembly’s Publications Office.
 Dividing the state at the Tehachapis, says the study, is the best idea because it represents “a wash between revenues and costs.” In other words, each half would have an equal share of revenue producing and revenue receiving counties. Alta California, with the very wealthy Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties (Marin, for example, pays 215 percent of the average per capita state income tax) would be balanced by the revenue-receivers, Fresno County, with the highest per capita welfare costs; Tulare, with the highest per capita Medi-Cal costs, and Kern, with the highest per capita crime costs.

 Baja California would have the same balance, with wealthy counties like Orange and Los Angeles balanced by poorer counties such as Imperial (with the highest per capita education costs) and San Diego, (yes!), which pays just 87 percent of the average state per capita income tax.
The point of this little excursion into federalist fancy is that as California becomes ever more ungovernable, some people are thinking about solutions. California is increasingly looking like places such as Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, amalgams of incompatible interests that have outlived their historical purpose. Or, to choose another metaphor, we resemble a corporate conglomerate, jerry-rigged by an ambitious tycoon and in need of an equity raider who sees that the parts are worth more than the whole.
If nothing is done, my bet is that some day this century, Californians will decide to divide their state. Though Field polls show that support for division has never risen above 29 percent, they also show that Californians’ perception of their state as “one of the best places to live” is down to 41 percent. Twenty years ago, 78 percent of our citizens still believed we had a great place to live. We are in serious decline.
The best current idea for addressing the state’s problems comes from a group named Repair California, a nonpartisan coalition of businessmen calling for a citizens’ convention to write a new constitution. Launched a year ago by the Bay Area Council, which represents the Bay Area’s top companies, and supported by Gov. Schwarzenegger, the council believes the state constitution is the main impediment to repairing our worst problems. It is gathering signatures to put the convention on the ballot next year.
 Delegates to the convention would be randomly-selected to avoid the problems of electing them (lobbies, money, low turnout) and appointing them (lobbies, money, political influence). It would be a citizens’ convention, with five delegates picked from each of the 80 Assembly districts to write a constitution for submission to public vote.
Short of splitting up, which would require writing two constitutions, such a convention is the best way for dealing with our central problem: how to pay for the services Californians demand from their government. The Legislature, paralyzed by Proposition 13, term limits, lobbyists, money and legislation by initiative, can’t do it, and neither can the governor. The result is that we face crises in education, transportation, water, firefighting, prisons and social services to name just six. The ridiculous state constitution, amended 500 times and containing 75,000 words (the U.S. Constitution contains 8,000), had become an impediment to good government.
The central question about a constitutional convention is whether just-plain-folks (chosen from Assembly districts, they will reflect the state’s population distribution), can do a better job than the mountains of lobbyists, politicians and experts who have created the constitutional straight-jacket that now binds us. I find it hard to believe just-plain-folks could do a worse job.
Schwarzenegger calls the idea “brilliant” for good reason. After all, he had the same idea in mind when he was elected. He was a non-professional, nonpartisan, non-beholden, middle-of-the-road politician who believed he could break logjams and roadblocks and get the system going again. At every turn, he ran into an impediment of some kind: constitution, Legislature, lobbyists, money, special interest groups.
 How do you govern a state of 40 million people with a constitution written for 1.5 million; with an initiative system designed to defeat special interests that has come to be dominated by them? If we start from ground zero, California has a chance to remain cohesive. To that end, we are in need of change, and to achieve that change we need a new constitution.

James Goldsborough is a distinguished foreign affairs writer, winner of the Edward R. Murrow award for foreign affairs reporting and a former columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

1 Comments on “Repairing California

  • The way the Constitution is set up now – we as voters have the right to deal with only one issue at a time. So I wrote the two certified Initiatives that people are gathering signatures on already. People can find out about our Certified Initiatives on our Website.I

    What I did – after long meditations over weeks – I focused on the many problems (many intertwined) – was attack all the problems with a single issue – the constitution itself. The issue is we need a California Citizens Constitutional Convention now.

    I will pass thru a short list as there is much much more we can and should do. But we can and will address these issues at a Constitutional Convention:

    – Single Payer Health Care – this should be a right in California and this will remove the rip off of the Big Insurance and Big Drug Companies – this will remove them from our market place – and the cost for everyone will come down – not just a little – but in huge dollars and cents figures for everyone – including the State and Local Governments costs of delivery of health care to the poor, the mentally disabled, and all workers (Government and Private) in our State.

    – End Prohibition on Controlled Substances – this will allow us to free about 120,000 to 140,000 people from Prison immediately. All those with criminal records for possession, trafficking, and use will have reviews to clear their records clean. We want to remove all felonies and misdemeanors so people can go get real jobs, and remove the crime from that vast part of our society that touches everyone. When drugs are legal, the use of drugs drops 60% or more within 3 to 6 months. This is a fact. What’s cool about getting fucked up when its legal? The Rebellion aspect disappears and all that is left is for losers to lose without any “cool” to the deal. Also the crime that plagues our ghettos, barrios, and middle class communities goes away. This does not change the fact that lying, cheating, and stealing are illegal. Same with violence. That does not change. But all the non-violent felonies and misdemeanors over drugs are gone. Everyone gets clean records for those past offenses. This changes the three strikes calculations on all cases where those were the “serious felonies” in the calculation of each case. The money spent by Local Police Departments chasing pot growers and smokers gets saved. We don not need so many police. We can close 50% or more of our Prisons. Taxes on substances mean money for our State and Local Governments also.

    – Three Strikes – This is in our current Constitution. It was bad public policy. The CCPOA pushed this with fear based TV ads. How many people does anyone know where they had bad guys climb in the window rape and kill? That was what three strikes was to stop. How it was applied is off the hook! We can just write that out of the New Constitution and get back to holding people accountable for one crime at a time. With the End of the War on Drugs – this also means that we no longer will treat alcoholic addiction with prison – rather we will treat people with the medical disease of alcoholism and alcoholic-addictions with medical and social treatment – so people can have a chance at recovery. Recovery can be a long process. So people can work while they are in programs.

    – Water – we need to make water. We need to provide for the water needs of California without ruining our ecology. We can do this. The Saudi Arabians built a huge desalination plant that opened last May. Best Technology in the world. 10 to 30 of these in California fueled by Solar Power (we have lots of sunshine in California for free) will make more than all the water already consumed by every home, business and farm in our State. This is a huge new public-owned infrastructure. This is why we have governments. This new California Water Project – will free up our Rivers for fish and our Coastal Fisheries will come back to life. I love Salmon. Now the Salmon are gone. They will come back if we have water for them to swim in and have babies. We need to live in harmony with nature – not in a battle with Mom.

    – Education – we need new schools, smaller classes, and free College and University for all. This is the only path from Poverty to the Middle Class ($50,000 to $240,000 per year jobs).

    – Government Safety Nets – we just shredded these. What are single Mom’s to do? Why make children suffer for the sins of their parents? Why do we not take care of our Old People? What are we? What have we become when as a society we neglect our young and old, and mentally ill?

    – New Structures of Government – we need to clear out the waste and inefficiency and delete the useless commissions and boards set up for the 1940’s 1950’s and 1960’s that have no place in the 21st Century. We need to restructure our Legislature. We need a Majority Rule by Majority Vote – to preserve political equality for everyone – at the ballot and at the votes of our Legislatures and County Board of Supervisors. This means we change Prop 13 and other sections of our current Constitution with deleting language and adding new specifics in simple rules – of government – that all governmental bodies will use all across California in the future – forever.

    – We need to restructure taxes – in 1978 (at the time of Prop 13) the corporations paid 2/3 of the property taxes and the homeowners paid 1/3 of the property taxes. In 2008, the corporations paid 1/3 of the property taxes and the homeowners paid 2/3 of the property taxes. This was the hidden commercial loophole in Prop 13 – and that is why the Big Corporations funded the Yes on 13 campaign. In the end we all lost. We lost our schools, educational opportunities for our kids, and we started to ship all who could not make it on cheap wages – to Prison.

    – Corporate power – we have 1,200 lobbyists for 120 Legislators. These Lobbyists now use corporate campaign contributions to buy Government, and sell out the People. We need public funding of our Campaigns – so anyone can run and have access to money. We need to prohibit corporate campaign contributions in all State Elections. The Corporations will kill to stop this. No elected Official will say this. Why? They depend on the corporations for their campaign money. The system is corrupt and we – the owners – must clean it up. Only the voters can do this. The Government will not stop operations as is. Why? Money is the Heroin of Politics.

    – Fair access to our Natural Resources – Our State Forests and State Parks belong to all of us. These and our waterways are not to be privatized, clear cut, and destroyed. This is our State to pass on in better shape to our future generations.

    – Use of Mining and Natural Reserves (Oil) – These are supposed to pay a royalty to the People of California. This means – that the companies that do this work must pay 10% to 25% to our State Treasury for our Government to grant them a license to operate in out State. This has never been done for 130 years. Texas and Alaska pay for all their State Governments with these fees on corporations.

    – Banking Regulation – All Banks that Operate in California have either a State or a Federal Charter. We need new State Charters for State Regulated Financial Institutions to compete with the monster money trusts out of New York. Credit Unions and State Chartered Banks could provide fair honest mortgages and student loans and credit cards for all of California to profit everyone and make credit State Regulated and fair. In competition with the Federal Banks, no one would do business with the Federally Chartered Thieves – including the FED. The Federal Reserve System is how our money has become worthless. We need a new State Currency – as provided for in the Federal Constitution in Article I, Sections 8 and 10. This is legal and fair. We need a transparent fair and competitive Banking System in our State.

    – Public Utilities Regulation – All the Public Utilities in California are Owned by the People. Most do not know this. We think ATT, PG&E, Con Edison, and Version are Private. They are. They are also licensed by our State – and we can change those licenses to open up competition as competition is good. We need new small competitors. We need wireless broadband for free across the State. We need competitive power creation and distribution systems. Why dont we have modern Public Utilities? Because our Elected Representatives are bought off with Campaign Contributions.

    The whole system is polluted by dirty money and corrupt. We are responsible. We – the voters – the third rail of politics – allowed this.

    What the Initiatives require is a total new government. Total new Constitutional Offices (Governor and his teams, and all the other Elected Constitutional Administrative Officers (Secretary of State, Attorney General, Ltd. Governor, Insurance Commissioner, State Superintendent of Schools) and (all new Legislators – as we will have a different configuration than the current 40 Senators and 80 Assembly Members), and (All Judges will face the Voters – to keep or replace every Judge in California). This means a whole new government. We do not know what the Convention will select. We may have a new form of State Administration. We may have a new form of State Legislature. We may have new Judicial Districts and Structure of our Judiciary. We may have new Counties? I trust the will of the people and their elected delegates to do the right thing to re-frame California – as California as is – is beyond Repair.

    So this is what my Initiatives do.

    This is Change.

    Do you want change? Do your friends?

    Some of this may be over your head. I don’t think so. I sense that everyone can comprehend this. Each part is simple. This is common sense. Just read each paragraph and think about it. Talk it over with your friends. Ask them to help table with you and organize a petition team to go and set up a table in public and collect signatures and recruit others to do the same in another location, at their churches, and PTA Meetings, Community fairs, and so forth.

    This solution is allowed by our Initiative Process. One Initiative empowers us to call the convention and specifies that certain methods and processes may be used by the voters to call a Convention. This is our Proposed Constitutional Article 36 (California only has 35 Articles – and this one on November 2nd – will become Our Article 36).

    Our Second Article – our proposed Article 37, takes the specifications allowed by our Article 36 and takes all power from that, with the force of Constitutional Law. We specify the players, powers, scope, and responsibilities of the Convention. We call the Convention. We specify the election of our Delegates. We open up the complete Constitution to re-write. All the elections are by majority vote. We elect the top five vote getters in each Assembly District to serve the people in Convention. All the decisions of the Convention are made by majority vote of the delegates – all of the votes on all of the issues and language of the new Proposed Constitution. And the New Constitution will be ratified (or not) by majority vote of the people. This is democracy. This is democracy as I was taught in Palo Alto Public Schools, and at the University of California at Berkeley.

    This process – is American and fair. This is allowed by our California Constitution. When a government is screwed up, we have the ownership right to change it. We do not need to remodel. We need to design new blue prints and start over from scratch.

    Once ratified – the old government just goes thru the process of setting up new elections so we can elect our new Constitutional Officers (Executive Branch, Legislative Branch, and Judiciary). When we are done with that election – we have a new government and all the points above become our new State.

    That is my California Dream.

    You can be in my dream if I can be in yours!

    Let’s make it real.

    The future is depending on each of us now – so sign up – donate what you can – organize your friends and lets get to work.

    Time table – from now thru the end of December – we have 700,000 signatures to secure on our petitions in all 58 Counties. There is a protocol to this and too much is at stake. So we need a trained and hired staff. This is like real law. We use lawyers in Court and they cost money. We use Trained Field Organizers in Politics – especially grassroots – and they cost money. I will post the budget on the website as we are not going to hide anything (even my smoking) from anyone. Everything is on the table. That is my word and bond, and anyone who is or has done time knows that all we have is our word. The rest is bull. My yes means yes and my no means no. I call them as I see them and I speak like a sailor, so if my language is offensive – I am sorry. I am what I am and thats all that I am – just like Popeye. I have had a few black eyes and I’ve given a few black eyes. I am a human being. This process of writing these Initiatives and placing them before you all has driven me into sever depressions, and many dark nights of the soul experiences. In the end, now, I turn it all over to you – all the people of California. You will make this happen by breathing all your life force into this – or California as we knew her will die, and be sold off to highest Corporate Bidder. From my view, the choice is slavery for us all, or freedom for us all. This is what America is all about. As California goes, so goes America. Each of us now and forward, all lead by our personal example: individually and collectively. We have until January 11, 2010 to file in all 58 Counties. Follow the legal directions of your petition coordinators and campaign staff. We will have one State Leadership Team. All will be paid. We will have 7 Regional Field Directors. All will be paid. We will have 17 Paid Zone Field Directors, and one Community Field Organizer per Assembly District. We will hire two Interns as well in each of all 80 Assembly Districts. One Intern will be trained as our local Communications Director. The second Intern will be trained as our local data manager. We are going to work with a universe of about 400,000 voters per Assembly District. This is a serious political campaign and we will win on November 2nd, 2010. The target date to file is Monday December 7th, 2009 – Pearl Harbor Day!

    From January 1st, of 2010 forward we will need a legal staff to defend our Initiatives in Courts across California. Do not expect the Corporations who seek to Privatize and take over our State Public Property and Public Commonwealth to go down sleeping. We are going up against Chevron, ATT, the (privately owned) Federal Reserve Bank System, PG&E and 270 others. We are going up against the Governor and the State Legislature. So prepare your selves for up days and down days – if not weeks. This is Politics and Politics is a contact sport. If I am assassinated – oh well. My families blood was shed in the War for Independence, and every other major War America has ever fought. I am 100% in. My hope is we do this without bloodshed. Too many have died already. If there are any gang-bangers that read this – stop it. We must stand together now as all of us are family. This is about the Women and Children, and no longer about turf.

    From March thru June – we have a training term and we will build our organizational capacity as a grassroots army of voters. There will be extensive training to do and which we will guide you on over Youtube and on Webinars and Conference Calls.

    From July thru the beginning of October, we have 30,000,000 voters to canvass and recruit. We have voter education, training and old fashioned political work on the ground. We will run an election on line and come to a group endorsement of who we will all select to vote for in Union come the General Election. This peoples caucus will be outside all parties. There are good people we need to support come November – but that is secondary to our support for our Initiatives. We will be hit with $200 to $250 Million in Negative Advertizing – and we have to stay standing strong thru it all.

    We will have to convince voters to vote for our Initiatives and defeat the Initiatives of the Bay Area Council – or Repair California. I call our opposition “Team Ripoff California”, because what they really are is a well funded effort to Privatize California as they think we are weak and defeated – after they foreclosed over 40% of our homes, and put most of us out of work, by shipping our jobs over seas.

    November 2nd 2010, we will win.

    Two weeks later – our candidates for delegates will file and step forward. Our campaign will break up into 80 teams – one in each Assembly District. The State Team will fall back to organize all 58 Counties so we can elect and appoint our people into as many slots as possible in every County in California in 2011 and after we have a new State Government.

    From the qualification of Candidate for Delegate forward – we will coalesce around our grassroots selected teams. Each Assembly District CAN Team will pick their local people – and this choice will be democratic. Our 80 Teams will each rally around their local team – to strengthen our vote strength and not dissipate our new power.

    There will be a 60 day campaign. The State Team will not participate in any Local Assembly District, as we will be limited to a new status as a Political Free Expression Group. We will fund this for massive TV and Internet Support of the local selections.

    After the vote for Delegates in the Special Statewide Election, we will wait like everyone else, and we will not know if we elected the majority of the delegates until the Governor announces who is in Asilomar, sequestered in Convention. As we will have no connection with the Convention – we will spend this time selecting who we want to run for County Offices, who we want our County Elected Officials to Appoint to all Appointed slots in each County. We intend to take over the State and County Governments, democratically, in a show of citizens democracy not seen before in America.

    Somewhere around mid 2010 of later, we will see the new Constitution. There will be a 90 day term of review and public discourse, and then a special statewide election for ratification. During this time – our whole state campaign will regroup as one solid effort and we will push like the champion defensive line of the NFL Dream Team of all time – and we will push thru the ratification of our New Constitution.

    By late 2011, no later than the beginning of 2012, we will have a New State of California – re-framed. That part will be over. Then we
    commence to pay critical attention to our candidates for the new Constitutional Offices. We may want to recruit good Lawyers to run for the Judgeships. We will have to look at what the Convention Drafted and pick the Legislative Candidates to fill the slots newly defined. We will have to look at the Executive Offices – as reconstituted. Everything will change. We must be ready to seize the opportunity.

    We will have federal court battles over our new State Law – I am sure. Do not be afraid of the future. We are not here to fear our future, we are here to frame it.

    There will be a primary election of 2012 and a General Election of 2012, and at the Inaguration of 2013, we will have a new Government and all New Officers. There is no thing that will be the same – with any certianty. Whoever gets elected in 2010 may not make it thru the primaries of 2012. Thats life.

    When we are done – in January of 2013, we will have a New Constitution, and all New Constitutional Officers. I hope the list of things we can do – spelled out above becomes real. I also hope that every prison case is reviewed by new eyes, based on our new State Law.

    Think of this as a fresh start for everyone.

    Let’s get on with the new beginnings!

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