Governor should hold to promise of reform

Link to Article: 
Newspaper: 
Pasadena Star News
Date Published: 
11/30/2008
Author(s): 
R. Michael Alvarez
Op-Ed

It was just a year ago, back in January 2005, when Gov. Schwarzenegger said in his State of the State Address, "This year we must heal the patient" (the "patient", in his odd metaphor, being the state of California). To heal the patient, the governor argued that we had to do two things: reform the way the government spends money and the way the government operates.

But 2005 was not a year of healing. Far from it. It was a year when little was accomplished in Sacramento on these important issues facing our state. Instead of leading the fight for real reform, the governor stepped into a fruitless, expensive, negative, and highly partisan struggle over a series of ballot measures that would have done little to fix the real problems facing California.

It is now a year later and we are entering the 2006 election cycle. But none of California's fundamental problems, correctly identified by the governor over a year ago, have been fixed. The patient is on life support, and unless we soon start to fix our state's basic problems, our state will continue to slide further into partisan bickering, economic uncertainty and social instability.

Instead of serious discussion about real reform, the talk from Sacramento in 2006 has shifted to debating the details of a massive election-year pork barrel. The governor wants to mortgage our future (and our children's) on a mad scramble of building projects, primarily designed to keep the lobbyists and legislators happy, and to cover up the forgotten promises of real government and political reform.

Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger has forgotten that he promised last year to fix our state's basic problems. Gone is talk of reforming our government and political process. He must think that we will forget his promises, while he doles out billions of dollars, running for re-election.

But we can't forget those promises, and we need to hold the governor and our state legislators accountable. We must re-examine how we are taxed, and how our tax dollars are distributed across state, county and local governments. We need to do a better job insuring that all Californians get the education they deserve. California needs better roads, reliable energy resources and a cleaner environment. We have to make sure that every Californian stays healthy, and if they can't, they need access to affordable, quality care. And of course, every Californian deserves a chance at a good job, paying a fair wage.

These are important, and difficult goals. To achieve them we need a radical reconstruction of how the business of politics is conducted in our state.

Instead of pretending that our structural political problems have disappeared in the past year, the governor and our state legislators must start a process to achieve real political reform in our state. And if they won't do it on their own, we voters must figure out how to make our elected officials pay attention to the real problems in our political process, or fix them ourselves.

First, we need real redistricting reform. The current process, where legislators get to pick their voters and to break up communities in the process, is wrong and has to be changed. We have to take this power away from elected officials and give it to nonpartisan, or multipartisan, hands.

Second, our initiative process needs to be fixed. Voters need to retain the ability to right the wrongs of our elected officials, and the initiative process is an effective check on our state's government. But we need to bring some rational deliberation to the initiative process, including developing a system of legislative study of all qualified ballot measures to give them the chance to adopt the measure before it hits the ballot. We also need time and a procedure for scrutiny of ballot measures, to insure they are free of errors.

Third, we must have real campaign finance reform. Our campaign finance disclosure laws need to be stronger, and we need real-time, electronic and easy access to that information so that voters know who is contributing money to candidates and ballot measures. We need to think hard about limiting the amount of money that flows into our state's elections, and to weight the free speech rights of contributors against the seemingly outrageous amounts of money that are spent in California elections.

It's time for serious talk about real political reform. Gov. Schwarzenegger opened the door last year, but he failed to deliver on his promises to fix our state government. Instead of pandering for votes in this election season with a massive pork barrel plan, the governor and state legislature ought to focus on real political reform. If they don't, we'll end up with a lot of money thrown at lobbyists and the interests they represent, and be stuck with the same supercharged partisan politics and dysfunctional government in Sacramento.