California Constitutional Convention by the people, for the people - could work Two initiatives filed June 24, 2009 would empower citizens to re-write the State Constitution
Citizen Paul Currier filed two initiatives that could be a multi-party effort to empower citizens to elect - not appoint - delegates to re-write the California State Constitution. The goal is to keep special interests as far away from the lawmakers as possible and re-work bad laws and conditions that have all but destroyed the state. Out of three plans that I studied his is the best, and it is actually filed.
Two Initiatives were filed with the State Attorney General last week calling for a California constitutional convention. I tagged along to interview and photograph Paul Currier as he filed his proposed Articles 36 and 37, the text of which can be read here
As a columnist for four decades who has watched our state turn into a black hole of waste and human suffering, I wanted to know from Currier himself how his proposal would help the citizens of California fix our broken state government, from the bottom up.
I accompanied Currier, a native Californian and political science graduate of UC Berkeley, as he launched the two initiatives and also set up a statewide general purpose campaign committee. He has been working since April with some of the finest legal minds in the state to draft the articles and plans for a bi-partisan "people's movement", as opposed to one run by corporate or special interests. But Currier has been troubled by California's downward spiral for a number of years and wants to do more than just complain. His background makes him more than qualified to offer what could be a real solution to our present crisis.
Currier is not a rich man but he was a key internet community organizer in the Obama campaign and has a tremendous network in place though his C.A.N. group which succeeded in garnering thousands of votes to elect the President to office. What he is proposing is that because California's government is broken, citizens of all parties need to put aside their differences long enough to be able to pass the two initiatives that would give the people the right to elect 400 delegates for the specific purpose of re-structuring California's Constitution.
Electing not appointing delegates would be essential, which is the opposite of what some corporate interests such as Chevron has been discussing through the Bay Area Council. Currier authored the proposal of five elected delegates from 80 districts, totaling 400. I heard parts of Currier's brilliant plan echoed on a radio show being promoted by the Bay Area Council last week. But after researching the B.A.C.'s proposal, I concluded that they are but another corporate special interest group and that the suggestion of 400 randomly appointed delegates is impractical at best, if not downright frightening. Sure, if they file after Currier, they can easily raise the money to pay signature gatherers to win such a campaign, but at what price to us all?
When I asked Currier during my interview with him what he thought of the B.A.C.'s concept of randomly selected delegates he replied, "Appointed delegates? Who would do the appointing, would it be corporations, labor unions, or the Governor? If so, then we could make no progress toward taking on the special interests, and California would remain controlled by minority rule, and big money rule through the lobbyist's continued control of our legislature."
I agree with Currier, a jolly, optimistic man with an infectious smile and "can do" attitude, that calling a people's Constitutional Convention is a good idea. Our state is so mired in gridlock that reforms will predictably not pass and the budget will always be late. Governor Schwarzenegger and California Department of Finance Director Mike Genest both frequently warn voters in their public broadcasts that a late budget costs taxpayers $40 million per day, or more than $1 billion per month. This article in the Sacramento Bee, revised slightly from it's first publication, contains a number of interesting facts and figures.
"There have been 512 'fixes' since the California Constitution was drafted in 1879. Major corporations have repeatedly assaulted the integrity of our State Constitution on a piecemeal basis for their own benefit, with little or no regard for the overall interests of our citizenry. What we have now is the greatest government that money can buy. Only people with access to big money can get elected to office " Currier said.
By electing delegates to fix the State Constitution who represent the people, instead of corporations and other special interests (such as CCPOA, the union for the prison guards), there is a chance to create new and modernized rules that can't be rigged or gamed.
The revenue structure is obviously as flawed as the expense side of the budget process. Our progressive income tax revenues fluctuate with the economy. When the economy is strong, state revenues are up and when the economy is down, revenues go down with it, which a key reason why we are in the current economic crisis. California is decoupled from few if any stable economic revenue streams, largely due to Proposition 13. The corporate loopholes in Prop 13 were put before the voters in a sneak attack, sold under the guise of Residential Real Estate Tax Relief.
The two initiatives filed on June 24 are meant to bring elected citizens together across all of California for what Currier calls a "sanity check" of all of the rules by which the state is now operating, rules which have obviously failed. If both initiatives are passed, the 400 elected members of the Convention will first hammer out their revisions to our 130 year-old Constitution. This process will require an estimated four to six months and then the new State Constitution will be put before the citizens for ratification. The citizens would have the opportunity to approve or reject what the 400 delegates agreed upon during the proposed Constitutional Convention.
Currier believes that" it is totally unrealistic to expect the State Government to fix itself."
Most people whom I've interviewed agree that a major overhaul is required in many areas such as education, human services, prisons, water, infrastructure and other aspects of the present crisis. Currently, voters cannot call a constitutional convention, which is why Currier's Article 36 must garner enough signatures to change that. The two measures must pass simultaneously. Article 36 is to amend the State Constitution to empower voters to call a convention. Article 37 sets up the protocols for electing delegates and actually calls the Convention. The State allows only one issue per initiative so both measures must pass at the same time.
Currier's perspective is logical. He rationalizes that "what we have now is an 1880 model car with a frozen engine. It is time that we, the people, take back our political equality, personal liberties and the right to majority rule instead of being controlled by special interests who view us as products, instead of people."
While other groups have copied parts of Currier's concept, these are the only two initiatives to call our Constitutional Convention that have actually been filed. Currier's filing on June 24, 2009 requested Titles and Summaries from the office of the Attorney General, and set the process in motion to certify for eventual gathering of signatures from our State's voters.
"Naturally, people who benefit from the taxpayers' gravy train are going to be resistant to change, whether it's the person getting $600 a month for welfare or earning $600,000 per year at the University of California. However, we as citizens have the right to transparent access of all our state agencies and a government that works for us all so that we may each pursue prosperity and happiness." Currier explains.
The voters should weigh in on the overhaul of our State Government, without the undue influence of any of the many with special interests – from the Governor's campaign contributors to various labor unions.
How will the Convention be financed? For each and every day that the lawmakers are late with a budget, the cost to the taxpayers is $40 million. Daily! For the past ten years, the budget has been from 30 to 60 days late. If the total were 300 days late for ten years on the low end, we paid out $12,000,000,000 (read $12 BILLION dollars) for no reason other than the Governor and lawmakers were in gridlock. Some years it was much more. The cost of a Constitutional Convention would easily pay for itself by the elimination of late budgets. Clearly, the only winners in the California budget game are the banks and funding institutions that we just bailed out on Wall Street. We are paying a high price out of education and human services dollars for late budgets and unbearable incompetence that we can no longer afford.
Currier has ideas about what should be addressed, but says that the various parties can slug it out over solutions and issues during the time when the delegates begin campaigning once everyone agrees that a Convention needs to be called.
When we wake up to the fact that we are at the point that we can't educate our children and building prisons is a higher priority than building universities, when the revenue is so unstable, it is long past the time for citizens to step in and right the wrongs which have bankrupted our state. Both the Governor and the Legislature have proven their inability to fix California. The lawmakers are never going to repair our State, because they are clearly serving special interests instead of the people. No one in power wants to concede that power, yet we all suffer because we allow ourselves to be manipulated by a very small number of people who don't care about us, regardless of what they say to win votes.
Win or lose, it's on.
There are 150 days after the Attorney General approves the Titles and Summaries, and the finance teams at the Executive and Legislative Branches weigh in. Then the Secretary of State certifies the two Initiatives for Currier to gather the 650,000 required verified signatures.
The timing just may be perfect. Instead of doing 20 separate initiative campaigns, which cost millions of dollars each, 400 elected delegates would save us a lot of time and money and take care of most of our problems during the Convention. It will be a different kind of decision process when delegates, as our representatives, are not funded by special interests, but instead come together as regular citizens with a mission to attend to our commonwealth. What a perfect way to celebrate July 4, which could bring California's flawed system more in line with the ideals of the US Constitution, which was approved at just such a Convention.
Currier believes that normal citizens can and do achieve extraordinary positive results and outcomes, when everyone works together for our common interests. California is the eighth largest economy in the world. California is not broke, it is broken. Currier's campaign needs finances and volunteers, which he prefers comes from people who are tired of government control by special interests. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in Journalism, Liberal Studies, and Humanities (Cultural Anthropology) she has focused on prison reform making great strides in Calif. supporting the landmark Plata-Coleman case for a decade which resulted in major prison reform. She writes scholarly articles too but prefers op-eds.