BULTENA: Forget the Legislature — let's have a state parliament

July 4, 2013 

A while back, the Merced League of Women Voters held a forum on California government. During the discussion, it was suggested that one solution to California's balky government may be a unicameral Legislature, eliminating the two-house system we have now.

One panelist suggested that a better system would be a parliamentary form of government wherein the executive and legislative branches would be combined. The chief executive would be elected by the governing body and he-she is usually the leader of the majority party.

The executive functions of the state would be carried out by appointed department heads rather than by individually elected department heads, the method we use now. The offices of lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, etc. would all be appointed.

None of the aforementioned offices would be on a statewide ballot. In fact, there would be no statewide ballot. The current system of electing state executive officials would be gone, along with the expense of funding such campaigns.

Most of the people elected now to state offices are either on the way to the governor's office or are enjoying a slow descent — along with a decent salary and pension — from being termed out of the Legislature. There would be no term limits under the parliamentary system.

The electorate would cast only one vote for all state officials — for a local representative who would go to Sacramento as part of the one-house Legislature. Once there, that representative would vote with like-minded representatives to select the chief executive of the state.

There would likely be more harmony between a governor who came from the legislative body than there is when the governor is elected separately. They would form a Cabinet to oversee the administration of the state. Those duties now are performed by a cumbersome group of elected officials who do not have a sense of unity and often display indifference to each other as well as citizens.

Appointing, as opposed to electing, Cabinet officers would enhance efficiency. They could be removed without the need for a recall election, and they would be more responsive to the Legislature.

The era of annual budget contests between the governor and the Legislature would be a thing of the past. Budget discussions would be on a friendlier basis, although local and special interests would still be part of any representative's concerns when it comes to money and taxpayer-funded programs.

With the current system of top-two voting, wherein the two candidates with the most votes in the primary go to the general election, political affiliation wouldn't be as important as the candidates' overall ability to represent the people.

However, we will see a significant change in the form of California government about one week after we finishing cleaning the droppings out of our yards that were left by flying pigs.

Bultena, a retired Merced County deputy district attorney, is a former visiting editor. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.

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