While there is widespread agreement that there is a crisis of governance in California, there is little consensus on what institutional structure would best facilitate useful reform. Although the idea of a constitutional convention captured the imagination of the reform community, it failed to generate enough financial and political support to be implemented. The citizens’ commission, another model of reform, has been largely ignored. Yet hundreds of municipal reforms have widely and successfully used the commission model over the past century. Some state constitutional reforms outside California have successfully used such commissions. Further, the legendary U.S.Constitutional Convention of 1787 more closely fits the definition of a commission than a convention. The commission model of governmental reform is much less exciting than a constitutional convention but for that very reason it reduces the initial risk of undertaking such an effort, a risk that is likely to prove fatal to reform. The low profile of citizen commissions allows a thorough airing of issues and the development of the sort of credibility that may give its recommendations surprising force. California may look to the structures of Florida and Utah—states in which permanent constitutional reform commissions have legal standing—as models of how California could steadily and effectively work toward a solution in a manner that both reduces the immediate political risk to all affected interests and leaves open the chance for long-term reform. While California’s attempt at reform by commission failed in 1996, there are lessons from that experience that can make success more likely.

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