California is stuck. Schools are about to lay off teachers. Prisons are about to release inmates. Historic assets are on the block. Initiatives confuse. Revolts fail. No amount of electing and reelecting people who promise to fix things seems able to move us forward. It's time to reboot.
There have been calls for months now to convene a state constitutional convention and, in essence, start over. It's a good idea. The state Constitution runs to two fat volumes in print and is padded each year by new voter initiatives or legislative propositions. In the end, it's just a document. It's not the enemy. But retooling is one necessary step to make the state function better.
Of course, all kinds of things can go wrong. How would delegates be picked? Would unions control a convention, or union-busters, or Proposition 8 advocates or opponents? A poorly structured convention or one populated by self-interested fringe delegates could do more harm than good. Every care must be given to the details, and it is essential to include in the initiative that authorizes a convention -- alas, there must be a ballot measure -- restrictions on what it would be allowed to address.
One benefit: A convention could push the Legislature to accept deeper, more far-reaching reforms than it might otherwise. One provocative notion being floated by the reform group California Forward would devolve decision-making on taxing and spending back to counties and cities, realigning the relationship between state and local government. In another year, lawmakers might scoff at the prospect. Fear of a convention may encourage ingenuity.