During several hours of passionate discussion in Santa Barbara at the first regional meeting of Speak Up for California, a group of private industry leaders, academics, and public officials quickly identified where they would like a governance reform effort to start.
More than half (55%) said the issues concerning them most in the state were economic prosperity and jobs. Over 70% of the group said education was either their first or second priority, followed by environmental issues and health and human services.
Participants were also very clear about which parts of government they are most eager to reform. Nearly half (41%) said the state’s budget and fiscal systems needs to change. One in four people in the room expressed a desire to increase public participation in government, and 22% said their top priority was ending partisan gridlock.
Some participants also offered words of caution for California Forward as it begins to seek input on how the state’s government can be improved. “The devil is in the details,” said one. “It’s easy to agree with these principles, but it’s really about how we accomplish these things. A lot of policy changes that have damaged the public interest have been made in the name of these same ideas.”
Many people also acknowledged that any attempt to reform the system would ultimately bump into the usual roadblocks in Sacramento—the state’s current partisan gridlock foremost among them. “That’s where differences and divisions will emerge,” as one participant put it. “And that’s when the bloodletting will begin.”
These are helpful suggestions, and we are under no illusions about how difficult challenging the status quo will be. The state’s elected officials and its special interests are often villainized for California’s shortcomings, but we believe the problem is not the governor or state legislators—but our system of state government itself. In fact, this very concern is the reason we’re having these dialogues across the state. Californians are calling for change. They know our government can do better. And we want to find a way to help get it there.
In the months ahead, as we build a more detailed set of policy ideas for changing the state, we want to hear your ideas. So please join us, and help us begin to move California forward. You can take the first step by signing up here for updates on our latest efforts.
Justin Ewers is a project manager at California Forward.