For anyone who hadn't noticed, there's a boomlet in political reform in California and a fair chance we haven't yet seen the end of it.
We've yanked the power to draw political districts from the Legislature and have given it to an independent nonpartisan actually multi-partisan commission.
We've instituted an open primary in which the top two finishers in the first (primary) round, regardless of party, run off against one another in the general election. We've tinkered with legislative term limits to allow newly elected members of the Senate and Assembly to serve 12 years in either house or in a combination of the two.
And in November the voters will confront still more reform proposals on the budget process, on criminal sentencing and on campaign finance. So now comes the question: Is it working any of it, or all the above or is it too soon to know? And are the fixes those already approved by voters in recent years, and those on the November ballot addressing the real roots of California dysfunctional government system?
The short answer is that little of it seems to have helped much. Some reforms have made things worse, or more opaque and confusing.
Some have simply produced even nastier and more expensive contests. Because of the open top-two primary, there are 28 intraparty contests on the November ballot 18 for Assembly seats, two for state Senate seats and eight for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Some, like the race between Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in West Los Angeles, Democrats whose positions on issues are nearly identical, have produced even nastier and more expensive confrontations.
Many must look to voters like contests between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, where the only distinction is between incumbent, if there is one, and challenger. Oddly enough, said Eric McGhee, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, the advantage in such races usually goes to the incumbent. Voters don't like politicians, but they usually like their own.
At a PPIC conference in Sacramento on Wednesday, we learned again that voters have more confidence in their local officials than they do in the state or federal governments.
But in passing Proposition 13, the voters themselves shifted a large share of power from the locals to the state. Asked whether there was a way of restoring local authority without changing Proposition 13 and giving the locals more taxing powers, the experts at the meeting had no answer.
If there's one thread that runs through most of our recent reforms, those already enacted and those that are pending, it's a continuation of the anti-politics that California reformers have been heatedly pursuing at least since the passage of Hiram Johnson's Progressive reforms including the initiative and referendum in 1911.
We seem to believe that if we take parties out of politics, government will be better. But it's long been apparent that the more we try to eviscerate political parties, the greater the influence of interest groups and non-party groups PACs in particular. So far there's no sign that the top-two system has reduced partisanship.
And, as journalist Joe Mathews, co-author with Mark Paul of "California Crackup," said this week, we keep passing ballot measures piecemeal without any attention to how they fit into any larger pattern. It's like adding yet more rooms to the Winchester Mystery House.
Proposition 31, a November ballot initiative that offers a very complicated change in the state budgeting process, Mathews said, is longer than the U.S. Constitution. (Actually, if you include all the amendments, said Sunne Wright McPeak, a board member of California Forward, which sponsored the initiative, the U.S. Constitution is longer).
But beyond our constant urge to add yet more patches to our ulcerating governmental system there are more fundamental problems. There is what PPIC President Mark Baldassare calls our "exclusive electorate," an electorate that is whiter, older, more affluent and more conservative than California's majority-minority population.
There are the millions of eligible voters who never cast ballots at all and millions more who know little about the state's fiscal structure but feel free to weigh in on complex fiscal issues and fight vehemently to protect their right to do so.
At the ballot box, said Los Angeles columnist Patt Morrison, we're like diners ordering stuff from an unpriced menu without knowing the cost.
Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor pointed out that Proposition 98, the initiative passed in 1988 to stabilize school funding, has in the intervening years "become almost incomprehensible."
Maybe, said Steve Glazer, a key figure in Jerry Brown's 2010 gubernatorial campaign, all ballot measures should sunset every 30 years. The better limit would be five years, as in many other states.
Part of the problem, someone said, is that many Californians weren't paying attention in their government classes. But maybe the bigger problem is that no civics textbook can accurately describe the mess we've made of California government. It will take a lot more than just another set of patches to fix.