Constitutional Convention (California)
The California Constitutional Conventions were two constitutional conventions that took place in September and October in 1849, and separately from March 1878 to March 1879, to create a Constitution of California. Multiple unsuccessful attempts at formation of other conventions have followed, and there are current attempts under consideration by various organizations and individuals.[who?]
The first California Constitutional Convention took place in September and October in 1849. Bvt. Brig. Gen. Bennett C. Riley, ex officio Governor of California, issued a proclamation on 3 June 1849 calling for a convention and a special election on August 1 where delegates to the convention would be elected.
The memorial presenting the proposed constitution to Congress claimed it banned slavery not because of anti-slavery sentiment, but just unanimous agreement (including convention delegates originally from slave states) that California's climate and soil were not suitable for slave labor. It also described the proposed eastern boundary as a compromise between those who wished to include all of former Mexican Alta California (including today's Nevada, Utah, and Arizona) and a committee-proposed eastern boundary at 116° (including the western half of Nevada but excluding the Lower Colorado River Valley and Imperial Valley), and denied having considered north-south division at the Missouri Compromise Line (south of Carmel and Fresno), saying Southern Californians had no interest in division.:xix
The second California Constitutional Convention took place from March 1878 to March 1879. The new California Constitution produced by the Convention was voted for on May 7, 1879, and adopted by a vote of 77,959 to 67,134.
Third constitutional convention proposals
California's third constitutional convention was originally proposed in a newspaper editorial article in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 21, 2008, by Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the politically powerful Bay Area Council, an association of the largest business enterprises in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mr. Wunderman was visiting the California legislature at a time when the state government was in the midst of a record 80-day-long budget stalemate, due to a projected $26 billion budget deficit. Among the consequences of the budget deficit, the state enacted unprecedented fee increases at its colleges and universities and sustained prison riots due to overcrowding. In an email sent to the author of this article (the contents of which have been authorized for publication by Mr. Wunderman), Mr. Wunderman stated: "[t]hen Assembly member Mark DeSaulnier stated he had received an offhand comment from the Senate pro Tem Don Perata in the elevator [regarding the need to call a constitutional convention]. It was more an expression of frustration attributed to Perata than an actual suggestion, I believe. But we heard it."
The organized effort to call a constitutional convention in California began with a series of "summits," the first of which was held in Sacramento on February 24, 2009, at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. The principal proponents of the Sacramento summit were the Bay Area Council, the California League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the William C. Velasquez Institute, the Center for Governmental Studies, the Greenlining Institute, the Courage Campaign, the Planning and Conservation League, and the Silicon Valley Network. Large attendance by a broad base of highly placed political actors and general enthusiasm for the proposal led the proponents of the Sacramento Summit on May 20, 2009, to launch the CaliforniaRepair.org website as the vehicle by which they would organize their movement for a California constitutional convention.
The hope of those who supported a constitutional convention is that it could "take on the manifold structural problems in California's budget process at a single stroke.
2010 ballot propositions abandoned
- California Electors Right to Call for Constitutional Convention Act (2010)
- California Call for a Limited Constitutional Convention (2010)
However, in February 2010, it was announced that petition drives to qualify the measures for the November 2, 2010 ballot were being abandoned due to insufficient financial support.
Reasons for a convention
Those who support a convention argue that "California is broken" and that piecemeal changes through legislation or ballot initiatives would be unable to solve a system they contend has become "ungovernable".
Problems they point to include:
- It has the worst bond rating of the 50 states.
- In 2009, income-tax receipts are coming in far below expectations.
- If the California 2009 ballot propositions May 19 ballot propositions had passed, the state would still have faced a $15.4 billion budget deficit. The amount of deficit expected if they failed, as they did, was $15.4 billion.
Issues in California that supporters of a convention believe require a more systematic or "holistic" approach (such as by a far-reaching revision of the state's constitution) include:
- Any budget must pass both houses of the California State Legislature with a California End the Two-Thirds Requirement Amendment
- A minority of Californians vote. Those who do are "older, whiter and richer than the state’s younger, browner and poorer population".
- Voters in California tend to self-sort into regions that lean heavily one way or the other on the political spectrum, leading to the election of California state senators and state representatives who are not very moderate.
- California's system of ballot propositions is part of the problem, with California as "the only state that does not allow its legislature to override successful initiatives" through what is known as legislative tampering and with no sunset clauses on propositions.
A Field Poll released in mid-October 2009 indicated that:
- 49% of voters favor changing the state constitution through a deliberative process with proposals submitted to voters as a package, while 40% would prefer separate initiatives placed on the ballot one at a time.
- 63% said that delegates to a constitutional convention should include a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds.
Constitutional Revision Commission, 1996
A Constitutional Revision Commission met in the mid-1990s and made a series of recommendations about a wholesale revision of the state's constitution, but this process resulted in no changes.
- Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the Formation of the State Constitution in September and October, 1849. United States Congress. 1850.
- 1878–1879 Constitutional Convention Working Papers, California State Archives
- Sargent, Noel. The California Constitutional Convention of 1878-9. California Law Review, volume 6, number 1, Nov. 1917. Available online at JSTOR
- IndyBay, "Does California Need a Constitutional Convention?", August 1, 2009
- Los Angeles Times, "Ready for the devil we don't know", August 16, 2009
- "http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/06/a-constitutional-conventionsolution-or-peril.html Los Angeles Times, "Fixing California: A constitutional convention -- solution or threat?", June 5, 2009]
- Government Reform Coalition Submits Measures to Call California Constitutional Convention, October 28, 2009
- Los Angeles Times, "Constitutional convention? Not likely", February 21, 2010
- The Economist", "The ungovernable state", May 14, 2009
- San Francisco Business Times, "Voters support changing California's constitution", October 14, 2009
- Los Angeles Times, "Fixing California: A constitutional convention -- solution or threat?", June 5, 2009
- Repair California, a group advocating for a constitutional convention
- California Constitutional Convention Summit
- Recommendations of the 1996 California Constitutional Revision Commission
- The California Constitution Wiki, a wiki project to re-design the state's constitution
- Cries for reform of California government come from all sides
- A California constitutional convention for all
- Long road to a constitutional convention
- Be wary of constitution re-write
- Alameda officials back constitutional convention