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California Constitutional Convention initiatives filed by the people, for the people

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Two Initiatives were filed with the State Attorney General today calling for a constitutional convention.  I tagged along to interview and photograph Paul Currier as he filed his proposed Articles 36 and 37, the text of which can be read here

As a columnist for four decades who has watched our state turn into a black hole of waste and human suffering,   I wanted to know from Currier himself how his proposal would help the citizens of California fix our broken state government, from the bottom up.

I accompanied Currier, a native Californian and political science graduate of UC Berkeley, as he launched the two initiatives and also set up a statewide general purpose campaign committee.  He has been working since April with some of the finest legal minds in the state to draft the articles and plans for a bi-partisan "people's movement", as opposed to one run by corporate or special interests.  But Currier has been troubled by California's downward spiral for a number of years and wants to do more than just complain.  His background makes him more than qualified to offer what could be a real solution to our present crisis.

Currier is not a rich man but he was a key internet community organizer in the Obama campaign and has a tremendous network in place though his C.A.N.  group which succeeded in garnering millions of votes to elect the President to office.  What he is proposing is that because California's government is broken, citizens of all parties need to  put aside their differences long enough to be able to pass the two initiatives that would give the people the right to elect 400 delegates for the specific purpose of re-structuring California's Constitution.

Electing not appointing delegates would be essential, which is the opposite of what  some corporate interests such as Chevron has been discussing through the Bay Area Council. Currier authored the proposal of five elected delegates from 80 districts, totaling 400.  I heard parts of Currier's brilliant plan echoed on a radio show being promoted by the Bay Area Council last week.  But after researching the B.A.C.'s  proposal,  I concluded that they are but another corporate special interest group and that the suggestion of 400 randomly appointed delegates is impractical at best, if not downright frightening.  Sure, if they file after Currier, they can easily raise the money to pay signature gatherers to win such a campaign, but at what price to us all? What they are proposing is a "controlled" Constitutional Convention, not one of the people, for the people and by the people like Currier's.

When I asked Currier during my interview with him what he thought of the B.A.C.'s concept of randomly selected delegates he replied, "Appointed delegates? Who would do the appointing, would it be corporations, labor unions, or the Governor? If so, then we could make no progress toward taking on the special interests, and California would remain controlled by minority rule, and big money rule through the  lobbyist's continued control of our legislature."

I agree with Currier, a jolly, optimistic man with an infectious smile and "can do" attitude, that calling a people's Constitutional Convention is  a good idea. Our state is so mired in gridlock that  reforms will predictably not pass and the budget will always be late. Governor Schwarzenegger and California Department of Finance Director Mike Genest both frequently warn voters in their public that a late budget costs taxpayers $40 million per day, or more than $1 billion per month. This article in the Sacramento Bee contains a number of interesting facts and figures.

"There have been 512 'fixes' since the California Constitution was drafted in 1879.  Major corporations have repeatedly assaulted the integrity of our State Constitution on a piecemeal basis for their own benefit, with little or no regard for the overall interests of our citizenry. What we have now is the greatest government that money can buy. Only people with access to big money can get elected to office " Currier said.

By electing delegates to fix the State Constitution  who represent the people, instead of corporations and other special interests (such as CCPOA, the union for the prison guards), there is a chance to  create new and modernized rules that can't be rigged or gamed.

The revenue structure is obviously as flawed as the expense side of the budget process.  Our progressive income tax revenues fluctuate with the economy. When the economy is strong, state revenues are up and when the economy is down, revenues go down with it, which a key reason why we are in the current economic crisis.  California is decoupled from few if any stable economic revenue streams, largely due to Proposition 13.  The corporate loopholes in Prop 13 were put before the voters in a sneak attack, sold under the guise of Residential Real Estate Tax Relief.

The two initiatives  filed on June 24 are meant to bring elected citizens together across all of California for what Currier calls a "sanity check" of all of the rules by which the state is now operating, rules which have obviously failed.  If both initiatives are passed, the 400 elected members of the Convention will  first hammer out their revisions to our 130 year-old Constitution.  This process will require an estimated four to six months and then the new State Constitution will be put before the citizens for ratification.  The citizens would have the opportunity to approve or reject what the 400 delegates agreed upon during the proposed Constitutional Convention.

Currier believes that" it is totally unrealistic to expect the State Government to fix itself."

Most people whom I've interviewed agree that a major overhaul is required in many areas such as education, human services, prisons, water, infrastructure and other aspects of the present crisis. Currently, voters cannot call a constitutional convention, which is why Currier's Article 36 must garner enough signatures to change that.  The  two measures must pass simultaneously.  Article 36  is to amend the State Constitution to empower  voters to call a convention. Article 37 sets up the protocols for electing delegates and actually calls the Convention. The State allows only one issue per initiative so both measures must pass at the same time.

Currier's perspective is logical.  He rationalizes that "what we have now is an 1880 model car with a frozen engine.  It is time that we, the people, take back our political equality, personal liberties and the right to majority rule instead of being controlled by special interests who view us as products, instead of people."

While other groups have copied parts of Currier's concept, these are the only two initiatives to call our Constitutional Convention that have actually been filed.  Currier's filing on Wednesday requested Titles and Summaries from the office of the Attorney General, and set the process in motion to certify for eventual gathering of signatures from our State's voters.

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B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in (more...)

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