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California Government and Politics Class Tackles the State Constitution

Nov 18, 2009

Dr. Robert Benedetti, Professor, Political Science Department, and Director of the Jacoby Center for Public Service and Civic Leadership
Dr. Robert Benedetti, Professor, Political Science Department, and Director of the Jacoby Center for Public Service and Civic Leadership.

Professor Robert Benedetti's senior seminar on California Government and Politics was recently featured in a story by Sacramento Bee journalist Daniel Weintraub. Weintraub has reported on California politics and public policy for more than 20 years, and he was intrigued by the project Dr. Benedetti assigns the class each year: overhaul the state constitution.

Amidst the state's economic turmoil, the state constitution has been under intense scrutiny, and a group called Repair California is seeking voter approval for a constitutional convention. They propose that a group of more than 400 people from across the state be responsible for reviewing and revising the constitution.

Weintraub stated that opponents to the plan fear that "a convention would run off the rails and endorse radical reforms that would make the state's problems even worse." He wondered how a class of Pacific students would handle the task.

In Dr. Benedetti's experience, his students tend to propose incremental changes to the constitution rather than act as revolutionaries. Here are some of the more interesting suggestions the classes have come up within the six years Dr. Benedetti has been assigning this project.

  • Replace counties with regional governments to coordinate policies on transportation, land-use, water, public health and air quality.
  • During political campaigns, candidates that mention an opponent in their advertising must pay for equal time for the opposition to respond.
  • Repeal term limits and double the size of the Assembly.
  • Force legislators to forfeit their pay when a budget is late.
  • Require the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a ticket.
  • Require ballot initiatives to be pre-screened by the courts to ensure they are constitutional, and force voters to vote again on each successful ballot measure, in case they regret their earlier decision.

The California Government and Politics class includes readings that help students become familiar with the state constitution and other forms of democracy. Dr. Benedetti also invites guest speakers into the class.

"I think the unique aspect of the class is that it is project focused," said Dr. Benedetti. "Few Political Science classes can boast a product at the end or claim to have taught students a clear skill. Here we end with a new constitution, and the students have learned how to draft an organic document for an organization or government."

Sacramento Bee article by Daniel Weintraub