Monday, August 3, 2009

Get Me Rewrite

According to this article, calling a constitutional convention in California has a broad base of support already. But this diary at Calitics shows that the concept of a clean constitution hasn't been widely adopted. Despite the post's title, the author lists a number of changes that are quite closely tied to the existing framework. Now, IANAL, so I don't know if a clean constitution is possible. An entirely new constitution may invalidate a huge number of existing laws, leaving governmental processes in limbo until the code can be re-passed with proper grounding in the new constitution. But we're bloviating on the intertoobs here, so arguendo is more or less a given.

What would I like to see in Cali's new constitution? Here are some of the elements:
  • A 2/3 requirement for constitutional amendments. Either voters or the legislature could put items on the ballot. No other referendums.
  • Same day voter registration.
  • Instant runoff voting.
  • Voting on paper and tallied using publicly available software and hardware mechanisms. Automatic recounts at 0.5% margin of victory.
  • A House with 2 year terms elected from districts of about 125,000 people. This would result in about 300 representatives now, and about 400 when the population reaches 50 million. Representatives would be limited to 8 full or partial terms. All legislation would start in the House. Bills rejected by the Senate could be passed with a 3/4 majority in the House alone.
  • A Senate with two overlapping classes of senators each with 4 year terms elected from regional multi-member districts. Each district would have a minimum of 2 senators, and the districts would have a minimum population of 750,000. Senators would be limited to 4 full or partial terms. The House majority leader would break ties in the Senate. (Acceptable alternative: two member districts consisting of 6 representative districts)
  • Majority voting in each chamber, with a typical veto override clause. No line item vetos. No omnibus bills.
  • A redistricting process similar to that used in Iowa. The regions for the Senate would follow Census Bureau definitions where they greater than 750,000.
  • State-wide elections for Governor, Lt. Governor, Atty. General, Treasurer, and Sec. of State. Terms would be for 4 years. Officials would be limited to 2 terms in each office and 5 terms total.
  • Appointment of top executive branch officials with approval by the Senate.
  • Appointment of all judges with approval by the Senate. Judges at the highest level would be limited to 1 full or partial term calculated as the number of justices times 2 (9 justices = 18 year terms). Replacements would serve until the next scheduled appointment of that seat.
  • The Senate could remove any statewide official or state judge with a 2/3 vote for any reason. No recall process.
  • Strong counties and weak municipalities. Counties would have a county-manager style of government.
There are a few policy-esque issues I wouldn't object to being in the new constitution.
  • Explicit reservation of all water issues to the state.
  • K-12 education would be funded by the state and administered by counties. Counties could further delegate operations. No funding levels or methods specified.
  • The state would fund and administer a system of higher education. Each level could develop endowments as appropriate. No funding levels or methods specified.
And that's it. All the other stuff - motor vehicle fees, property tax calculations, marine resources, medical research, intragovernmental borrowing rules - all of it should go overboard and be reimplemented as laws.

A closely related issue is redrawing counties. This would be even more controversial than a constitutional convention. But, really, a lot of California counties make no sense. San Bernardino and Riverside are just far too large, extending all the way from L.A.'s outer suburbs to the Arizona line. Others like Alpine and Sierra are ridiculously underpopulated. Yet another group are ones like Placer and Kern that range across geographically distinct and not well connected areas. Los Angeles County manages to be overly large, geographically disconnected, and over-populated. A neutral commission should be appointed to redraw the counties based on population, size, and geography. For instance, Riverside might be split into 3 parts - one west of San Gorgonio pass, one at the north end of the Coachella Valley, and one east of the Chuckwalla Mountains in the Colorado River valley (this piece would need to be merged with parts of Imperial and San Bernardino). Alpine should be merged with the western parts of Eldorado, Placer, and Nevada counties to form a new county. And so on. One can easily imagine how contentious the process could be. Communities or neighborhoods near borders might want to be in the other county; the residents might or might not want them. Residents of small counties accustomed to their independence (real or imagined) would object to being merged; other areas would want to break free of a entity perceived as too large or otherwise undesirable. This is why the reallocation would have to be done by a neutral commission operating on clear principles.

Update: Rough Senate allocation: LA region - 48, Bay Area - 20, San Diego - 8, Sacto - 6, everybody else - 18.

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