Cavala: Clap Your Hands If You Believe In Constitutional Conventions…

Posted on 15 July 2009

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towashington 089.gifBy Bill Cavala
A veteran of over 30 years in Sacramento

Can voters “amend” that portion of California’s Constitution that says any “revision” to the Constitution must be by a specific convention process? That’s the facile plan embraced by those looking for utopia. But will the California Supreme Court allow an “amendment to the revision process” – or will they call it a back door effort to pass a revision while circumventing the Constitutional protections otherwise involved?

Well if the Court trusted the convention to produce, inter alia, a provision for the lifetime appointment of Judges – ending messy elections with their contributor problems, then the Chief Justice might indeed jump on the convention bandwagon. But where’s the guarantee of that? Equally likely, a convention could void years of statutory precedents and/or eliminate unpopular “rights”. Conventions, you see, are “sovereign” bodies. Once established under the current Constitution (requiring a 2/3 vote of both Houses of the Legislature, which then draws districts and holds an election for delegate), the Convention may produce any product it desires. The end of the single member district?
So be it – from now on representation will be proportional.

Once the product of the Convention has been ratified by voters, the shackles of the old Constitution cease to effect its action. This means you can’t tell a sovereign convention what to put in the new Constitution – or limit what is discussed.

Who will run for delegate to this convention? My guess is that hundreds would seek the office. But the election will be run under partisan rules: All the Democrats will face off n a primary - and likewise the Republicans. The highest vote getters would run off for the seat of delegate.

Depending on the size of the convention (a decision made by the current Legislature), these elected delegates would more or less resemble the current Legislature.

Reform? More like a lot of wheel spinning.

The truth is that in the absence of some suicidal impulse that infects 2/3 of the Legislature, there will be no convention. More likely is the sudden, magical appearance of the tooth fairy.

Bill Cavala was Deputy Director of the Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services where he worked for over 30 years. He attended undergraduate and graduate school in the 1960’s and received a doctorate in political science at UC Berkeley. He taught political science at UC Berkeley during the 1970's while he worked part-time for the State Assembly.

Cavala left teaching at UC Berkeley for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 1981 until his tenure as Speaker ended in 1995, and he has worked for his five successors as Speaker. He now manages election campaigns for Democratic candidates.