Krist Novoselic writes a column every Tuesday on the Daily Weekly, and rides a Tesla every time he's in California.
On May 12, most California


How California Should Reset Its Constitution, and Why We Should Care

Krist Novoselic writes a column every Tuesday on the Daily Weekly, and rides a Tesla every time he's in California.
On May 12, most California voters couldn't bother to show up for an election. Those who did vote chose to reject the wonky fiscal measures that Sacramento had to offer. The vote not only resulted in failed ballot measures, it also reveals that, like a computer's operating system, California's political system has effectively crashed. There needs to be a California v.2.0--an upgraded political system that functions better for citizens.

In 1850, there were one million people living in California. Today there are over 37 million. Yet the legislature in Sacramento has remained the same size. Population trends have separated legislators from citizens. There are now over 850,000 people living in a single state Senate district. With these populous mega-districts, most voters feel disconnected from state lawmakers. And as a result, they tend to vote for initiatives that tie the hands of Sacramento.

There's a huge political vacuum in the California Republic, but you'll still find the usual suspects filling the distance between the citizen and their government. Special-interest groups set the agenda by lobbying Sacramento. And if that doesn't pay off, they'll try to get their way by sponsoring ballot initiatives. Gaming tribes, unions, business interests, and trial attorneys, to name a few, dominate politics, while most people do not know who their state representative is.

And it gets worse: The politicians get to draw the maps of the mega-districts. This is where the insiders collude to gerrymander safe-seat districts that they pack with their supporters. They basically settle the election before any ballot is even cast.

Like most every other state, California has a budget deficit. It's a complicated situation that you'd think the brains in Sacramento would be able to address. But populist voter initiatives have put big hurdles on governing that have resulted in the legislature being unable to pass a budget. Lawmakers are required to achieve a two-thirds majority to pass a state budget. Considering they're spending citizen tax money, this sounds appealing. But in practice, the two-thirds vote results in minority rule with all kinds of political deals behind closed doors.

There's no real theory behind the state's political system. For example, in a fledgling democracy like Iraq, political scientists designed a system that would work to meet the needs of the people. California's system, on the other hand, is a hodgepodge of rule changes that have accumulated over 150 years of statehood.

It seems like governance in California has become impossible. The founders of the United States promoted a republican form of government that tempered the whims of the majority. California's political system has evolved into "anything goes"--like a San Francisco street fair, but without the naked freaks.

Voting for ballot measures can be an emotional impulse for Californians. They'll choose to put curbs on tax hikes, while other times they'll pass laws that require maintaining an expensive prosecution and incarceration system. They'll vote for sexy bullet trains or nobly mandate the state spend more on education, but when Sacramento offers wonky ballot measures to keep the state fiscally afloat, most voters have other things to think about.

The May 12 meltdown reveals a 19th-century political structure that is failing to meet the demands of a modern California. The state constitution needs a reboot, and there are people proposing an upgrade to a new operating system. The Los Angeles Times has even stated that proportional representation for California would be "interesting." Instead of gerrymandered single-member districts, a proportional system has multiple seats, so that the minority of voters get a voice in the legislature also.

Last year, the New America Foundation released a proposal for a California legislature elected with proportional representation that is indeed interesting. And there will have to be discussions regarding how to address the mega-district issue, while facing a public that will be weary of adding more politicians to Sacramento.

Even though it's refreshing to hear about progressive election reform in a major newspaper, the L.A. Times couldn't mention proportional representation without trotting out the notion of complexities. But the current failed system in California is very complex. It's a mishmash of measures that reflect a simple yet untenable populism: People want government programs but don't want to pay for them. And considering the low voter turnout on the 12th, they don't want to think about budget intricacies, either.

California is facing complex challenges. And I'm sure this innovative and dynamic state is up to the task of finding solutions. Perhaps in the course of solving problems they'll even set the trend for the rest of the nation. They usually do.

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