Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, has become my go-to guy for good-government issues. His wife, Joan, he recently confided, calls him "the Sisyphus of reform."
The analogy to the Greek mythological character -- whom the gods condemned to spend eternity pushing a rock up a hill, only to have it roll down before he reached the top -- seemed especially apt when I asked him to send me a list of the good-government propositions that were on the California ballot over the last decade. He quickly rattled off 15 propositions that were arguably -- some tenuously so -- reform-minded, seven of which voters passed.
No wonder, I thought, I've come down with a severe case of Reform Fatigue. Despite numerous attempts to fix a broken system, the California Legislature remains a pit of rancor, gridlock and dysfunction.
Both parties are represented by their extremes. The rare moderates used to meet in secret; now they look in the mirror. As a result, the Legislature has churned out bloated and unbalanced budgets because, well, that was the best Sacramento lawmakers could do.
California desperately needs lawmakers who can work together.
Enter Proposition 14: This measure on the June 8 ballot would end the party primary system by putting the two candidates who garner the most votes on the general election ballot. The measure would apply to all state and federal races except the presidency. Its goal is to elect more moderate lawmakers from both parties.
But can it deliver?
To tell the truth, it's a roll of the dice.
Supporter Jim Hartman, a Bay Area attorney and former chair of the Alameda County GOP Central Committee, told me something no proponent has ever said to me before. As he put it, "There's whimsy to it."
That is, Hartman acknowledged that the measure's success in delivering will depend on primary turnout under the new system and who is in the field.
In fact, he would prefer to see a "blanket primary" that would allow voters of any party to vote for one candidate in that candidate's party's primary. The problem, alas, is that while close to 60 percent of voters passed such a measure in 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it.