California is in deep trouble because it has a dysfunctional system of government. Much of the problem can be changed by one sentence.
I have sent to the Attorney General a ballot proposition for the 2010 ballot called The California Democracy Act, whose content is the following:
All legislative action on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote.
It would change two words in the Constitution, turning "two-thirds" to "majority" in two places. It is simple, understandable, and it is about democracy.
I will be speaking on this in Los Angeles Thursday night. (See below.)
As I see it, democracy is the main issue in the governance of our state. The two-thirds rules have an anti-democratic effect. Our legislature is currently under minority rule. One-third plus one -- only 34% -- of either the Assembly or Senate can block the will of the majority until their demands are met. This is undemocratic.
Minority rule is why we have gridlock in the legislature. Minority rule has brought our state to near bankruptcy, causing crises throughout the state.
A majority of California voters have elected a majority of the state legislators, and that majority is responsible and, so far as I can tell, overwhelmingly dedicated to sane fiscal management and to serving the needs of our citizens. But they are handcuffed by minority rule.
Democracy can work in California. What the majority of voters want, a majority in the legislature will enact. And it only take a majority of voters to enact that one-sentence amendment.
Changing the vote requirement to a majority for budget and revenue will ensure that California's budget can meet the state's needs and be passed on time. One sentence can end economic uncertainty and provide for an improved credit rating, for payment of our bills with money instead of IOUs, and will bring stability to our schools, nursing homes and universities. One sentence can make California a well-run state again.
How does minority rule happen? By trickery. Don't be fooled. The way a minority of one-third plus one comes to run the show is by imposing a 2/3 rule. It may sound more democratic, but it is less democratic. It allows a minority to rule by gridlock, by thwarting the will of the majority in the legislature, and hence, a majority of the voters in the state.
No other state is run by such a minority. In no other state can a ruthless minority cause the chaos, disruption, pain, and near-bankruptcy that our state has suffered. A majority of the voters, can end the tyranny of the minority.
Democracy means majority rule. One sentence will do the job.
Of course, there will be a blowback. Conservatives will say, as they always do, that this is just a ruse to raise taxes.
But this is about democracy, not about how or whether revenues are raised. What the majority of citizens want, a majority of elected representatives will enact. The question is simple: do you want democracy?
Here's what government is about in a democracy. Government has two sacred moral missions: to protect and empower its citizens.
Protection starts with police and public safety and extends to protection for consumers, for our food, for workers, for the elderly, for those sick and helpless, for the environment, and for investors.
Empowerment is what allows us to earn a living and live decent lives: public roads and buildings; a working power grid; water; a basic educational system; a system of public health and nursing homes; a system of higher education with advanced research in medicine, computing, and agriculture; banks and insurance companies you can trust, and court system that works.
No one earns a living in California without protection and empowerment by the government. No one makes it without all of these things. Without them, the California Dream becomes a nightmare. Without revenue and a sensible budget, there can be no protection and no empowerment, and the world's seventh largest and richest economy starts to look like a third-world country.
Minority rule is closing California. State parks: closed. Schools: closed. Fire departments: closed. Nursing homes: closed. Medical clinics: closed. Libraries: closed.
We do not have to stand for it.
The majority of voters choose the majority of legislators. That's simple democracy. When the majority of legislators rule, the majority of voters rule.
Can this work? It can, with strong support. What is needed is a serious campaign making the case for democracy, and allowing the voters to see that minority rule is the root of the problem.
Since the minority is a strongly conservative Republican minority, progressive Democrats running for the legislature in 2010 can run on a pro-democracy platform, placing the blame for gridlock where it belongs, on their opponents.
The main question is whether we can run such a campaign successfully. That is simply a matter of organization, commitment, support, and funding. None of those is trivial. But we know how to do them.
We have begun raising funds for a poll. To contribute, go here.
I will be speaking Thursday night at 7 pm to a coalition meeting of a wide variety of organizations dedicated to ending the 2/3 rules.
500 S. Virgil Los Angeles, CA 90020
Auditorium (Located on the first floor)
R.S.V.P.: susieanneshannon@ yahoo.com
or call (323) 939-5475
George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley and the author of Don't Think of An Elephant! and The Political Mind.