05/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

California - A Crisis of Confidence?

It must be nice to be a billionaire. Over the last few weeks, GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has inundated California airwaves with an unprecedented media blitz working to eviscerate her primary opponent and debut the "softer side of Meg." One of her ads leads with the poll-tested "I will say that the number one thing, I think, that faces California right now is a crisis of confidence." The number one thing? Yep. It must be nice to be a billionaire.

In a state with over 13 percent unemployment, a completely dysfunctional legislative structure buffeted by policy-by-ballot-initiatives and a budget that is hemorrhaging, it might be a bit presumptuous to say that we are simply facing a "crisis of confidence." It's not hard to see why Californians are exasperated with the system.

From dodging press questions to ducking debates it seems like Ms. Whitman is falling into the same trap as other high-profile, high-roller California candidates: employing large-scale media buys in targeted media markets filled with platitudes and hollow poll-tested phrases in an attempt to out name-recognize other candidates.

Of course this does nothing to fix the system - a system that is becoming more ungovernable by the day.

The state is facing an over $20 billion shortfall in the coming year and this is on top of nearly $60 billion in budget adjustments that showed social service and education cuts coupled with tax increases and vehicle license fee hikes. With mounting debt, rising student fees, an out-of-control initiative system and an untenable two-thirds budget passage threshold, it is time for someone seeking to lead one of the largest world economies to propose systemic - not attitudinal - changes. It is with this backdrop that voters have tuned out the meaningless ads, which are simply reinforcing why everyone has soured on politics, and are focusing on things that matter - like keeping their jobs.

Candidates, especially those running for California's chief executive position, need to articulate a platform grounded in reality. Without meaningful discussions on the two-thirds budget requirement, Proposition 13, gerrymandering and term limits (just to name a few) people will continue to disengage from the process. Sure, policy proposals can cause people to glaze over - but even Ross Perot's charts got people talking about the national debt.

Some organizations, like California Forward, have been working to address these issues with some even calling for a state constitutional convention. But major reform proposals championed by organizations like this have so far fallen on deaf ears - or even put on hold indefinitely (read: until after the elections).

It is time to move beyond poll-tested sound bites toward something, anything, policy-related. After all, even a billionaire's confidence can't buy us out of this mess.