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Common Sense California

The mission of Common Sense California is to serve as a civic bridge between the citizens of California and our elected officials. We hope to improve and reform the broken system of governance in California so that, together, we can face and resolve the significant, long term challenges facing our state. We span a broad spectrum of professional disciplines and perspectives. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

During the past five years alone California has faced serious crises that have shaken our confidence in the future attainability of the California dream. And these problems threaten to get bigger in the next 20 years when the state is expected to add a population equivalent in number to the state of Ohio.

Californians have stopped talking about and thinking about the future and, most importantly, as a statewide community, we have stopped preparing for it. We now lack a commonly accepted basis for making important decisions about the future of our state.

A Brief Introduction

Of all of the dilemmas facing California, one is fundamental: the profound disconnection and lack of trust between the people of California and those we have elected to make the vital investments and decisions that will affect our quality of life over the next several decades. This disillusionment with our elected representatives, especially at the state level, stems from Californians' belief that "common sense" solutions to pressing problems are being ignored or overlooked under the pressures of partisan fighting and "special interest" lobbying.

Aided by a strong base of research that reveals the priorities and values that most Californians define as "common sense," we intend to help:

  • Identify the decisions and investments that will shape our future.
  • Identify solutions to make public institutions more effective, efficient and accountable.
  • Weigh the costs of our decisions and how we will pay for essential programs and infrastructure. It is time for an honest discussion of taxes, including the fairness of our current tax system, and what role we wish government to play in building a better California.

A number of groups now seek to reform California government and decision-making. Most of them start from a solution they advocate, be it changing legislative term limits, school financing or the tax system, and then seek to build a broad coalition of support to enact their preferred solution. Common Sense California takes quite a different approach. We begin by building a diverse, bi-partisan network of Californians from around the state. Then we seek to understand the priorities of "regular" Californians and the values they wish to see reflected in public policy. Then, and only then, does Common Sense California declare its support for specific policy and/or governance change and works to build support for such "common sense" solutions through a network of community leaders and the media.

We will do our work in four ways:

Stimulate dialogue. We will inform and engage Californians in serious dialogue about the challenges and opportunities facing our state and the public and private actions need to solve them. Central to this effort, we will reach out regularly to a large number (perhaps 1,000) of respected leaders including key individuals from business, labor, agriculture, religious congregations, government, ethnic groups, youth groups, non-profit and media organizations to solicit diverse viewpoints, share research findings, and engage and list support for "common sense" solutions.

Shift the public debate toward the future. We will engage the media, including the ethnic media, in helping to shift the center of attention from short-term fixes to forward-thinking policies that will ensure our quality of life in the future. This might well include the publication of a "dashboard," a small number of key indicators (much as an automotive dashboard shows fuel levels, engine temperature, battery charge and essential warning lights) to help the public understand the "state of the state" in understandable, quantitative terms.

Incubate action and work with partners. We will support specific, substantive ideas for improved public policy but we will not lobby the details of legislation. Common Sense California will work with advocacy organizations already taking action consistent with our "common sense" agenda and help incubate new organizations.

Promote accountability. We will hold public officials, especially at the state level, accountable for the use of their power to improve the future prospects of our state. We will not endorse candidates but we will acknowledge elected officials who work toward the goals of Common Sense California. We will participate in key events that shape public policy. For example, we might sponsor a "Citizen's State of the State" message when the Governor makes his annual address to the Legislature.

CSC is currently structured in three parts…

1) a Board of Directors responsible for governance of the effort, 2) an Organizing Committee charged primarily with helping to shape the agenda of Common Sense and conducting outreach and 3) Advisors who provide counsel and help identify potential sources of support.

The California public is frustrated with the status quo

In this environment, constructive change can come in California government and policy-making as the result of the work of a group of determined individuals who have the confidence of others, a powerful idea that sticks in the mind of the public, and the willingness to work over the long term. The time has come for California to, once again, prepare for the future. Common Sense California can be a catalyst to making this happen.

Conference on Deliberative Democracy for California at Pepperdine Feb. 23-24, 2007

Citizens' assemblies and other tools of deliberative democracy (choice dialogues, public engagement, deliberative polling, etc.) are not well known, yet they would seem to hold much promise for a state in political gridlock where citizens feel alienated from their elected officials. As a result, one valuable place to start would be a conference in which those who understand and use the tools of deliberative democracy could share their ideas with California citizens and opinion leaders, with time to think through possible applications for the Golden State.

Pepperdine University and Common Sense California have agreed to cosponsor such a conference–with additional support from New America Foundation–in Malibu February 23-24. We hope you will mark the dates on your calendar and look for an invitation in the next 30 days. Dr. James Fishkin, Director of the Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy and Carolyn Lukensmeyer, founder and president of AmericaSpeaks, have agreed to keynote the conference, and invitations are out to others. We believe this could jump-start a series of activities that will be beneficial, including perhaps a statewide citizens assembly.

Geographic Focus: California

Resource Link: www.commonsenseca.org

Steve Weiner, Co-Chair (with David Davenport)

pateve@sbcglobal.net

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