Op-Ed: California is still ripe for reform

150 150 Thomas V. McKernan

California is defining a new Era of Reform, which may sound odd coming from supporters of an unsuccessful reform ballot proposition.

The California Forward Action Fund sponsored Proposition 31, the Government Performance and Accountability Act. Some thought the reforms went too far, while others thought they did not go far enough. While each of the six reforms in the proposition individually polled above 70 percent, for many voters, that was too much reform to trust.

Nevertheless, California still must resolve some of its key challenges — including figuring out how to make its bureaucracies more efficient, its services more effective and its decision-making more transparent.

The reform work will continue because it must, and because nagging questions remain:

How do we improve our schools — once the nation’s best — that don’t prepare enough individuals to be successful in the new economy? How do we once again create middle class jobs — which for so many dreamers was the reason to come here — and improve our ability to compete with the rest of the world?

And while public services have to get better, the fiscal horizon is still red. How will state and local governments deal with growing public pension obligations and budget-related debt? How will state agencies and thousands of local governments work together to efficiently provide better services?

While these questions underscore that more reform is needed, it is also important to remember that successful reforms should help government get the job done.

In fact, the new Legislature will be the first test of this era’s reforms. The November election was the first general contest based on districts drawn in public by citizens, not in secret by incumbents. It was the first general election pitting the two-top vote getters from the June primary, not the two candidates who reflected the purity and often polarizing philosophies of their political parties. So far, at least, we know that the new lawmakers come closer to reflecting California’s ethnic diversity more than ever before.

The November election also produced the first freshman class of state lawmakers who will have a little more flexibility under the term limit reform enacted in June. Most believe these lawmakers, with the option of serving 12 years in their new position, will behave differently because they can learn their jobs, develop relationships around solving problems and legislate without worrying about running for another office.

Behavior is really what these reforms were all designed to change. The opportunity is for lawmakers to make better decisions when they represent communities of interest, not gerrymandered blocks of partisans, and when they have to be accountable to all of the voters and not just the party faithful.

That’s why California Forward has supported these reforms, and why we think much more must be done so lawmakers are focused on cost-effectively improving results.

We will continue to explore the best ways to help fix our broken government. We know that reform doesn’t come easy. It took several tries to pass re-districting reform. This Election Day was just a bump in the road.

California Forward will passionately continue its work to help Californians get what they need and want: elected leaders who are accountable for results, a prosperous economy that is the cornerstone of the California dream and governments that you can trust to work together.

Thomas V. McKernan is chair of the California Forward Leadership Council and chair of the board of the Automobile Club of Southern California. 

This piece was originally published in the San Jose Mercury News.


Thomas V. McKernan

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