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California Needs to Press the Restart Button

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A democratic revolution is brewing in California in the form of a Constitutional Convention that reformers are working to put on the ballot for November this year. More citizens every day are realizing that a clean slate - a fundamental break with today's dysfunction - is the only way to fix the mess that California's broken government has inflicted on its people.

The state has fallen far and fast. Our public schools, once the nation's best, are now among the worst. Our crumbling transportation and water systems were the envy of the world just a generation ago. Our business climate is ranked among the worst in the United States. California's prisons are so overcrowded that the state must turn loose tens of thousands of felons into its neighborhoods. Our higher education system - the once proud jewel of our economic success - is witnessing an academic talent flight, slashing the number of students it will accept and socking them with crushing fee increases.

California's Legislature is unable to act on any of these crises, instead spending most of every year on a farcical effort to pass an annual budget that only makes matters worse.

Yet there's reason for hope. Despite the depressing trends and headlines, California's economy is resilient and diverse. Our companies continue to disrupt old ways with innovative approaches. Our workers are second to none in productivity.

We need a government that can once again help unleash the state's potential.

Today, California is the poster boy for government dysfunction. No matter what leaders we send there, our state capitol has become a sinkhole, undermined by special interests, raw partisanship and citizen disenchantment. The chief obstacle to a better future at this point is California's Constitution, which thanks to years of special interest fiddling, amounts to a system that guarantees failure.

Just this fall, one of the state's premier engineering schools, Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo, turned away more than 400 of the state's best high school seniors with nearly perfect GPAs and SATs who wanted to be engineers - not because they didn't have space, but because they couldn't "afford" them. At the same time, just down the road, Lompoc prison admitted 400 more inmates. No wonder pundits increasingly call California a failed state.

Despite being America's largest state and the world's entertainment capital, high-tech epicenter and agricultural breadbasket, and boasting the world's eighth-largest economy, we're operating with a Constitution written in 1878 that has been hacked and distorted beyond recognition. Our Constitution is the third-longest in the world. It has been amended more than 500 times. Why does it require more than 75,000 words when the finest such document ever written - the U.S. Constitution - contains only 4,400?

California desperately needs a democratic revolution. It is time for citizens to press the restart button and editorials from around the state agree.

That is the promise of a constitutional convention. Repair California, which I chair, is working now to gather signatures to put it on the ballot. Its goal is to enable citizens to call a convention (amazingly today, only the legislature can call a convention - with a 2/3 vote) and then to call it in 2011. The convention been designed to address the skepticism people might have about so audacious an enterprise.

Today, because of deep cynicism, "who" is proposing the reform matters as much as the reform itself. Voters have made clear they no longer trust "experts" or politicians - they only trust themselves. But how do you assemble the people of California in a room to deliberate reforms for several months? Using a system pioneered in several locations in the United States, California will randomly draw citizens from a combination of voter rolls, taxpayer lists and DMV records - three people per Assembly District. These 240 delegates will represent the values and diversity of everyday Californians.

How do everyday citizens make good decisions on reform? California will also bring in established experts as well. An additional 220 seats will be divided by population among California's counties. In each county, a committee of five local government leaders will review applications at public meetings and pick their county's share of expert delegates.

This innovative approach mixes the values of everyday Californians with experts chosen by the elected leaders closest to the people. This year, Californians will have the opportunity to empower themselves. With a vote this November for the constitutional convention, citizens can take back their government, restore sanity to Sacramento and renew the Golden State.

I for one, can't bear looking my daughters in the eye and saying, "I had a chance to fix our state, but I was too busy to do it." If you live in California, please consider getting involved, and sign the initiative. If you do not live here, we welcome your support and hope our revolution spreads to other places where government dysfunction currently outweighs reason. Learn more at www.repaircalifornia.org. Come with us we work to restore our Golden state, and fundamentally repair our government.