Lead by Example: Restructured Representation in California - By Ed Ryan, Jon Bachmann, and Nick Brunner
“Governments [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
- Declaration of Independence
In the wake of the 2008 crisis, public frustration with California’s dysfunction reached a boiling point. Its government had lost touch with the governed. Targeting systemic failures, new legislation addressed partisan redistricting, tardy budgets and unfair elections. These laws eliminated obstructions to democracy and aligned California more closely with the principles of our founding document: The Declaration of Independence. Not only is California a de-facto global superpower, but thanks in part to these initiatives, it is the new vanguard of American democracy.
Our Founders understood that rulers rarely cede power and thus championed a system of checks and balances to prevent representatives from promoting their own interests. Today, most states allow those in power to redraw voting districts, enabling incumbents to legally cherry pick demographics for their own reelection. This poses a fundamental problem; a system favoring partisanship is not only inefficient, it is anti-democratic. To curb rampant gerrymandering in California, Prop. 20 established independent redistricting commissions.
Unfortunately, partisan attitudes had also fostered inefficiencies elsewhere, notably in the process of budget approval. Because such matters required a two-thirds majority, legislators were rarely able to pass budgets on time, sometimes forcing California to issue IOUs. Knowing their votes were critical, some politicians leveraged this process by demanding earmarks in exchange for their votes, attaching wasteful contingencies and effectively throwing tax dollars out the window. Prop. 25 solved this problem by enabling a simple majority to pass budgets, removing a bargaining chip from politicians seeking to profit from gridlock and elevate the value of their votes. California’s newfound timeliness also meant investors were comfortable with lower yields, thereby reducing fiscal pressures on our state’s debt.
In addition to these improvements, California has worked to ensure its citizens have the opportunity to elect more representative leaders. Only sixty percent of Americans participate in Presidential elections. Even fewer vote at the state level. Since extreme factions of both the Democratic and Republican parties are likelier to vote in primary elections, these limited demographics receive disproportionate representation. Over time, this systematically bifurcates policy from the moderate majority. In response to this contradiction, California passed Prop. 14 so that only the top two vote earners in a blanket primary election earned the right to participate in the general. This proposition was intended to depolarize the ideological field. While difficult to quantify, perhaps California’s attempt to restructure representational elections emanates from the same patriotic DNA that enables us to be the sixth largest global economy.
The experiment is ongoing. California is by no means perfect: our public schools and ballooning pension system must be addressed. However, these actions represent transferable legislation that can be applied to any state, red or blue. California’s pursuit of comprehensive reform, at the expense of the ruling Democratic party, demonstrates a new brand of pragmatic patriotism. Californian centrism better represents the will of the governed, which is is not only forward-thinking, it is American.