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Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner

The Citizens’ Legislature and Other Gimmicks

In this space not too long ago, an argument was made in support of the so-called “Citizens’ Legislature,” a new initiative proposed for the 2014 ballot that is now in the signature circulation stage. Proponents claim it will somehow reduce the pernicious effects of money in politics by increasing the number of politicians. It’s not just a small increase, either. It’s a radical one, i.e., by creating 100 times more legislators than currently in office. In short, the so-called Citizens’ Legislature initiative would change the state’s Constitution to create a 12,000 member legislature instead of the 120 members we have today. Every one of those 12,000 new politicians would then stand for election, be permitted to introduce legislation – as if we do not have enough hare-brained bills floating around Sacramento already – have to vote on all of those bills, and, most importantly, need to fundraise.

The idea may charitably be called counter-intuitive.

I have had the opportunity to meet with the initiative’s author and chief proponent, John Cox. He came to my district office several weeks ago to pitch the idea. He is an earnest, good humored, articulate champion for this cause and I greatly appreciated him taking the time to talk with me; I just do not agree that he has appropriately diagnosed the problem or come up with a viable solution.

According to Mr. Cox, the problem with California is too much money being spent in politics and 12,000 new fundraising politicians will somehow solve that problem. Hard to see. But even so, money is merely a symptom of the real problem with California. Our real trouble is that we have a nanny state. Too much of your life has come under the control of lawmakers and bureaucrats who think they know better how to run that life than you do. And if you slip up, even unintentionally, in managing your life the way the state wants you to manage it, then a gaggle of lawyers await, poised to pounce on you with lawsuits – maybe even a class action lawsuit if you’re a big enough target.

Twelve thousand new politicians will not reduce the reach of our government.

Liberal districts will continue to elect liberal politicians – 100 times more liberal politicians! – while conservative districts will continue to elect conservative politicians. But the underlying problem of the nanny state will not change.

Nor will the money stop flowing to Sacramento as long as the government in Sacramento is so big and so involved in every facet of life. There is too much at stake for special interests not to spend money on Sacramento.

The Citizens’ Legislature is merely another in a long line of gimmicks designed to fix the once Golden State. Consider that, among other things, we tried term limits and it is hard to argue that the crop of labor activists, environmental do gooders, and community organizers today running through the Capitol hallways looking for the next office is an improvement over the politicians of the past. We also tried recalling a failed governor, and instead got the Govenator and things like AB32. We tried a so-called Citizens’ Commission to draw legislative district lines, we tried open and top-two primaries, we tried eliminating supermajority vote requirements to pass budgets, and we tried campaign finance reform, including the ballot box creation of a new “watchdog” bureaucracy.

We tried all of those things and others, yet California still needs to be fixed and the FBI still raids Sacramento political offices. It is the triumph of hope over experience to think that, with just one more initiative, we’ll finally get it right. All we need is 100 times more politicians.

Sorry. No. It doesn’t work like that.

Fortunately, there is a fix to what ails California.

What needs to be done? Junk the nanny state by electing responsible legislators dedicated to the founding principle of limited government.

Government used to be relatively small and limited, doing business within the narrow confines placed on it by the constitution. Recall the clear language from the federal Constitution that the legitimate purpose of government is to “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.” Government appropriately left to the sovereign people the decisions that they, as free citizens in a free state, should make for themselves. Because it didn’t over regulate, it left little incentive for special interests to spend money in Sacramento influencing those regulations.

Too often now our government interferes with liberty. With new laws and arcane regulations burdening us in ever increasing numbers and details, we find our freedom to live as we chose eroding away. If you really want to fix California you need to put into the existing legislature 120 men and women who are dedicated to growing liberty, not growing government.

It won’t be easy. It requires finding the right candidates and then a lot of grass roots politics to do the hard work of winning tough races. But that would be a real fix, not another gimmick.

Assembly Member Wagner represents the Orange County cities of Anaheim, Irvine, Lake Forest, Orange, Tustin, Villa Park, and surrounding areas.