The Jury Talks Back


Reforming California’s Politics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fritz @ 9:12 am

Why is California’s politics so screwed up?

Is it the people, the climate, some sort of weird California foo-foo, or something more concrete and structural?

Tom Karako of the Claremont Institute thinks he has the answer. In an opinion piece entitled “Putting California back together” from Sunday’s L.A. Times, Karako identifies six structural deficiencies of California’s Constitution.  He offers  some recommendations for changes that need to be made in order to solve our persistent political messes.  Indeed, his argument amounts to the statement that no amount of post-partisanship, good faith, or putting our differences aside and working towards the good of all Californians are ever going to solve our underlying problems.  Karako writes,

If this year’s budget quagmire in Sacramento has you thinking there must be a better way, there is. To the extent that California is ungovernable today, it is partly because its legislative and executive branches are too weak and dysfunctional to resist entrenched special interests and non-elected bureaucracies. Fixing these problems requires constitutional change. It won’t be easy, but the time has come to do it.

The six include moving to a part-time legislature, putting in a hard spending cap, extending the budgeting cycle to two years, eliminating the two-thirds majorities needed to pass a budget, unifying the executive branch, and repealing ballot-box budgeting.

I agree with most of Karako’s recommendations.  I don’t like the notion of the hard spending cap.

Part of California’s problem, because of ballot-box budgeting, is that its politicians have so little recourse to prudence or discretion.  Many of their choices are already made for them.  Aristotle identified prudence as the epitome of virtue in politics.  California’s legislature should be given more responsibility within its proper sphere, not less.

There are two suggestions that I would add that I think Karako missed which would achieve this end.

First, California needs to move towards the elimination of term limits.  A key part of legislative politics, to put it bluntly, is keeping promises and taking responsibility.  With term limits as they’re currently set, our legislators  are always running for the next higher office.  Politicians are self-interested seekers of re-election and who are attempting to forge careers for themselves.  Their motivations and ambitions aren’t connected with their current office, they’re always connected to the next office up the line.  They have no particular interest in the kind of compromise which would ensure long-term success at their current level, mostly because for them there is no long-term.

Also, term limits prevent politicians from getting to know the lay of the land.  They aren’t able to cooperate over the long-term if there is no long-term.  Because no one is going to be in office long enough, they can’t keep their promises to one another, they can’t cooperate, and they can’t forge coalitions.

Second, and connected to the notion of term limits, is the necessity of reform of California’s redistricting process.  Karako’s argument about the two-thirds majority needed to pass a budget is tied in to this.  Have you ever wondered why California elects center-right or center left Governors, but its legislature is far-left?  In California, a politician’s likely challenge is in the primary, not the general election.  Because primaries are more ideological than general election, the politicians they create are likely to be more ideological and less likely to compromise.


  1. I tend to agree with both authors here except about the termination of term limits. The author’s argument for termination assumes that, as a result of term limits, politicians are always running for the next higher office. But wouldn’t they do this anyway? How many politicians are happy at the current levels they are at? Most like power (which is why they are politicians) and always want to jump to the next level.

    Comment by eddieb — 7/27/2009 @ 3:59 pm

  2. The good news is, we’ve reformed the way the legislature’s districts (as opposed to Congressional districts) are drawn.

    The bad news is, that’s probably not enough.

    My question is: how is making the legislature a part-time operation going to increase the legislature’s ability to “resist entrenched special interests and non-elected bureaucracies”? ISTM that only being part time would increase the legislature’s dependence on the non-elected bureaucracies to tell them what the facts are.

    Comment by aphrael — 7/27/2009 @ 8:51 pm

  3. I’ll give them repeal of term limits if the Legislature is changed to a part-time one with a total days limit similar to that in TX.
    If legislators had to do real work back in their communities, they might concentrate more on what they actually do in Sacramento and how that affects real people; plus, it would negate the constant desire to be looking for a new office since they already have a real job.

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! — 8/3/2009 @ 7:47 pm

  4. Hopefully California can get its government fixed soemtime soon!

    Comment by Moving to California — 8/10/2009 @ 12:34 pm

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