As local governments fight inefficiency and failure with the current state government, a large group of local administrators are calling for a new kind of reform effort: a constitutional convention.

Repair California sponsored a conference call on July 24 with at least 130 local administrators, including county supervisors, mayors, city council members and school board representatives to discuss the possibility of a constitutional convention.

“Local governmental leaders are angry as hell about the budget and the current laws, and they should be and we agree with them. That’s why we’re leading the charge,” said John Grubb, Senior Vice President of the Bay Area Council.

Grubb said during the call, local government officials echoed the sentiments laid out on the Repair California Web site.

“Day by day, evidence piles up demonstrating that California government is not only broken, it has become destructive to our future. The recent failure of the Legislature to negotiate a budget, in the direst of circumstances, is just another straw on the camel’s already-broken back,” in a statement from Repair California’s Web site.

“Our state’s founders gave us the tool to take this step of reform — with a constitutional convention.”

Simply put, a constitutional convention is a gathering of delegates for the purpose of revising an existing constitution or writing a new constitution. The hopes of this convention would be in a limited focus.

“Conventions may be limited to consider only certain subjects. The limitations would need to be placed in the enabling legislation that the people vote on to enable the convention,” Grubb said.

“For us, limitation would be narrowed to just governance issues. Governance includes only the budget, relationship between state and localities, election processes and government oversight mechanisms.”

During the call, a city council member wanted reinforcement that this would be a limited constitutional convention and policy issues such as the environment and human rights would not be addressed.

Grubb assured they would not.

Currently, there is only one method in which a convention can take place and that is through a 2/3 vote by the legislature to allow it to come before a general election ballot.

However, Grubb and members of this effort are pushing for a ballot initiative, where a majority of the voters can approve an amendment to the current Constitution that would allow the voters to bypass the legislature and directly call a convention.

Grubb said by September 25 of this year, the ballot initiative for this convention will be turned in to the Attorney General and the Department of Finance.

The proposal could reach a vote by November 2010 with a potential starting date of the convention November 2011.

Grubb stated that he intends the delegates to this convention not be completely legislators, but those who deal with policy implementation everyday: local government officials.

“Yes, local government officials can and will be delegates,” Grubb said. “No way a convention like this can happen without an abundant amount of information and participation from local officials.”

California has had two previous constitutional conventions in 1849 and in 1878, which produced our current system.

In 1962, the constitution had grown to 75,000 words, which at that time was longer than any other state constitution but Louisiana. That year, the electorate approved the creation of a “California Constitution Revision Commission,” which worked on the constitution from 1964 to 1976 and removed approximately 40,000 words and made other minor changes.

According to Repair California, one study of conventions from 1938-1968 found that the average duration was 2.6 months. The 1878-1879 Convention, which rewrote the entire California Constitution, met for five months and four days.

Repair California states that “California’s constitution was always meant to be a living document that could adjust to the times … it needs serious structural reforms, chosen and authorized by the people, and a Constitutional Convention is the only politically viable means to achieve those reforms.”

Grubb stated that the conference call brought a “diverse crowd” of local government officials highlighting his beliefs in its pure non-partisan motives.
“Some of the fist people to reach out to us were the very conservative Orange County Lincoln Club and also the Courage Campaign, who are one of the most progressively liberal campaigns in the state,” stated Grubb.

Even with the potential convention two to three years on the horizon, given the recent state budget debacle and the ever-growing lack of trust in state government, its chances of feasibility and success are higher than ever before.

“It’s hard to say but if you had asked me two months ago I would have given this convention’s chance of happening 33 percent,” said Grubb. “But now, given all the flux that we’ve seen recently, I would give it a 60 percent chance of success.”

Many are looking to history and past success in other state conventions for hope California’s can take place.

Grubb said that California’s current status is very relatable to a constitutional convention that took place in Illinois in 1968.

It was a similar time in which the state of Illinois was taking power and revenue from localities. The convention resulted in the now commonly known “home rule” concept. It granted taxation and service providing power to jurisdictions of 25,000 or more, and allowed smaller jurisdictions to apply for that power as well.

“Their actions have been wildly popular and Illinois now has one of the strongest state constitutions in the Union,” Grubb said.

Andrew Carico can be reached at