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Constitutional convention may be best treatment for our dysfunctional state

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Posted: Friday, June 5, 2009 10:00 pm

Republicans and Democrats don't always agree but there is one issue I think everyone can agree on - our government is failing. We have had record deficits for months and we have not solved the problem.

One of the reasons I ran for State Assembly was because I did not think our budget reflected our priorities as a state and I thought it was time to advocate for a new way of doing the state's business. Politics as usual has stalled difficult choices and both parties have held onto their sacred ideologies without putting forward concrete and viable solutions to really solve our problems. I have only been in office for seven months but I am trying to solve problems created by years of borrowing to make ends meet, gimmicky budgets and over committing in the good years and failing to cut in the bad.

It's time we stopped nibbling around the edges and address real reform and the way we manage this state. It's time we examine our governing document, our constitution.

I believe the fastest road to real reform is to hold a constitutional convention. Over time, we have legislated at the ballot box and taken away the flexibility of all but 10 percent of our budget. That means 90 percent of our budget is mandated spending put in place by ballot measures, spending formulas and court orders. The California Constitution is now 173 pages long compared to only 29 pages for the United States Constitution. It is the third longest constitution in the world.

We keep finding ourselves in the same dilemmas, yet we fail to address reform during the bad times, focusing instead only on the crisis at hand, and when good times return the motivation for reform is lost. I am focused on trying to minimize the pain of cuts to education, harm to working families and businesses and trying to ensure that Californians are not unnecessarily burdened by increased taxation during California's budget process. However, I will not stop advocating for real reform that allows us to respond to economic crises and implement a vision for California.

The idea of a constitutional convention is not something new. In fact, in 14 other states, voters are automatically asked every 10 to 20 years whether to authorize a constitutional convention. Unlike these other states, California doesn't ask that question.

We need to start this dialogue now. I propose that we begin legislative hearings as quickly as possible to answer the question of whether the state should hold a convention. If the answer is "yes", then we need to determine the process, delegates and other details. The proceedings must be completely open and transparent. It is important to conduct the proceedings through the legislature and allow the process to work, instead of allowing special interests to place a proposition on future ballots that would give them the ability to call a convention and determine the process and details.

Finally, approval of any new constitution must lie with the voters in order to affirm the result. This will also encourage the delegates to make it a representation of the state as a whole or risk losing voter confirmation.

This process will not be easy and it will take some time. Many will argue that it is just too large of a task to undertake and too risky given the uncertainty of the result. I trust the people of California over the system we have now and I am willing to fight to make state government more responsive to the needs of all Californians.

Assemblywoman Alyson Huber represents the 10th Assembly District, which includes Lodi.

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