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Attack of the goo-goos

Good-government types promised their reforms would fix things. They were wrong.

June 10, 2012|Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews, a contributing writer to Opinion, is California editor of Zocalo Public Square

Restoring democracy requires a redesign of California's entire system: elections, budgets, Legislature and the initiative process. That's constitutional convention stuff, of course, and exactly the sort of thing that California's good-government industry of think tanks and foundations and billionaire donors will tell you is terribly unrealistic. Sadly, the good government industry's own hold on reality is rather flimsy; after this disaster of an election, the goo-goos have already launched into their usual self-congratulation and happy talk about the progress they are making.

The folly of their thinking was apparent to anyone who turned on a TV in Los Angeles on election night. The most visible politician on L.A.'s local news broadcasts was not from California. It was the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.

This journalistic choice made all the sense in the world. Walker, unlike California legislators, governs a state where elections matter because Wisconsin doesn't have all the rules and the big algorithm that render our own elected officials so powerless.

As a result, the Wisconsin election produced what California's reformers say they want: deep civic engagement, big turnouts from every community around the state and major policy debates about the state's future. It was no accident that the Wisconsin election was a profoundly partisan race, with bitter differences in a real contest for real power.

Maybe we'll try that sort of thing here some day.

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