I always feel more creative in California. I’m not sure if it’s the weather, the entrepreneurial buzz, friendlier people or just the warm mythology I’ve internalized from decades of listening to the Beach Boys. But whenever I touch down in the Golden State, I really do consider more options, think about grander plans and attack challenges in an entirely fresh way. It happened again when I visited Los Angeles last weekend. While my California love originated in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, I felt the same glow as I sat in a hotel restaurant in West Hollywood.
But my calm and confident mood was somewhat at odds with California’s current reality. The state is in full-blown economic crisis: unemployment over 10% in many cities, foreclosures skyrocketing, and, oh yeah, a $24 billion state budget deficit.
But instead of curling up in a ball, California is facing the brink with some of its boldest creativity yet. If a group of activists has its way, California may rewrite its constitution in 2011. The proposed constitutional convention–a potentially seismic political event if they pull it off–would play out online and in front of the cameras, addressing the fundamental questions of our society. Who gets to vote? How much should the rich pay in taxes and how does that get decided? What defines a first-class education and is it a requirement that the state offer it to every child? To make this convention a reality, a number of hurdles will have to be overcome. For starters, they’ll need a couple of million signatures to get a pair of issues on the ballot: the convention itself, and a new rule that allows the convention to happen without legislative approval.
But if they succeed, it’s hard for me to overstate the convention’s potential impact as the world watches this bellwether state publicly debate what a 21st century democracy should look like. California could press the reset button not just on fundamental issues like health care, education, marriage, and taxes, but on even more basic questions about how to run a society–and an economy, in California’s case the eighth largest in the world.
A constitutional convention is a big idea, to be sure. Change on that scale is never easy. But after spending just 48 hours with Californians and feeling that creative energy once again, I’m sure that if anyone call pull it off, they can.
WATCH Repair California makes its case for the constitutional convention
Photo by superfem
The Stimulist is journalist Carlos Watson’s original take on the daily news: a tasty mix of rising stars, provocative ideas, and inspiring stories. Enjoy responsively: