The brilliant young California scholar Thad Kousser, writing at a new blog called California Choices, expresses a worry familiar among those who want to reform this state's budget, politics and schools: California's younger, minority citizens are far less engaged in state issues -- and offers far weaker opinions about them -- than older, white Californians. "Why is the California of tomorrow missing from the constitutional debate of today?" Kousser asks.
Kousser cites a recent Field Poll, conducted with various California university researchers and the group Next 10, that shows white voters taking clear stands on various reform issues (more than 90 percent of white voters had a clear opinion) while minority voters -- particularly Latinos, Chinese-Americans, Korean-Americans and especially Vietnamese-Americans -- are more reluctant to offer opinions. Kousser writes with a note of concern: "Any change to the constitution will have to be endorsed by a majority of voters, but this poll warns that many members of the state’s fastest growing groups would sit out that election if it were held today."
Kousser makes a fine argument, but I wonder if he may be worried about the wrong trend. It's the certainty of the state's white, older electorate -- which has a dismal record of tying the state legislature in knots by approving irrational combinations of taxing mandates and spending limits -- that are the real problem. Reforming California requires unwinding various constitutional rules that these voters approved (and cling to).
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The uncertainty of younger, minority groups is utterly rational, given the complexity and opacity of California's governing system. That uncertainty also is very good news for reformers. The Californian voters of tomorrow haven't made up their minds about how to fix the state -- so they should be open to strong arguments and evidence-based appeals. If only the California voters of today were so open-minded, and so humble.