Public Comment

The California Democracy Act

By David Fielder
Thursday January 28, 2010 - 08:43:00 AM

The California Democracy Act, a non-partisan constitutional amendment authored by Cal Professor George Lakoff, consists in its entirety of a mere 14 words: 

“All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be decided by a majority vote.” 

  California is the only state in the nation to constitutionally give a 34 percent minority of its state representatives direct control over all such legislation—thereby ensuring the budget and revenue gridlock we are experiencing. 

  California is in the middle of an unprecedented economic crisis requiring fundamental new approaches for resolution. Creativity is essential as we are currently unable to implement more obvious solutions to resolving the crisis. For example, we are the only significant oil-producing state that fails to charge oil companies an extraction tax on the oil they pump—even Governor Palin prided herself on taxing Alaska’s oil profiteers. 

  The state of our education system is of even more concern to many. As recently as the 1960s, our state was renowned as first in the nation in education. Our public education system, from grade and high schools to community and state colleges and universities, was a major contributor to the economic success California experienced in the latter half of the twentieth century. Termination of our state’s ability to invest in that education system is directly contributing to our economic collapse—California is now ranked 47th in funding per student in the nation. Teachers, such as one high school chemistry teacher who signed my petition, are forced to buy their own classroom supplies, and they rightly question if the profession remains valued by our citizenry.  

  Starting in January, volunteers began gathering signatures to place the California Democracy Act (CDA) on the November 2010 ballot. Since this would be a change to the state constitution, 700,000 registered voters’ signatures are needed to qualify the measure by the deadline in early April. Recruitment and training of these volunteers is being coordinated through the CDA website: 

  My own experience as a volunteer petition circulator is telling. I have been gathering signatures at local shopping districts at the rate of one every two minutes. The typical response has ranged from “I hate the initiative process, but this one I’ll sign” to “thank goodness something constructive is finally being proposed.”  

  Clearly, these voters are fed up with the inability of their elected representatives to govern in the face of the current system of minority control of the legislative process – and even more disgusted with the collapse of state investment in local services and infrastructure including healthcare, schools, police and fire protection, roads, and public parks. The sense is that California is devolving into a state where the rich will receive their privately funded services within their gated communities (policing, fire protection, insurance, healthcare, etc.), while the communities outside those gates are left to founder. 

  One final issue is the relationship of the CDA to the proposed constitutional convention, another ballot proposition being promoted. One might wonder, why fix a small portion of the constitution when the rest of it also needs addressing? The answer is as simple as the 14 words of the CDA initiative, because a constitutional convention will not deliver any improvement for at least three to four years, due to the complex process involved. 

  If California voters want to return California to its former civic and economic stature starting now, they must consider an approach that quickly breaks the legislative budget and investment gridlock and returns the ability to govern by majority rule to our elected representatives—precisely the goal of the California Democracy Act. 


David Fielder is a Berkeley resident.