A Deliberative Poll for CA's Future :: Summer 2011

Partner Profile: California Forward

It's hardly news that Californians are frustrated with politics as usual. The budget is billions of dollars out of balance and invariably comes together late, with duct tape and deferral of the real problems. Sixty percent of Californians say the state is headed in the wrong direction.

But a large part of the problem is the disillusionment and lack of engagement by Californians themselves, who have a major stake but not much of a voice. Occasionally they rise up with a ballot initiative, but even those are largely dominated by special interests. How can ordinary Californians be engaged and heard on the state's big problems?

Next month 300 randomly selected Californians will have an opportunity to do just that— deliberate and speak out on key issues of fiscal and political reform. Using principles of Athenian democracy, and tools of leading edge technology, these ordinary Californians will spend the weekend of June 24-26 in Torrance engaging in the first-ever California statewide deliberative poll - discussing taxation, local control, the initiative process and legislative representation. Both the process and the outcome could form the basis for breaking the logjam in Sacramento and moving the state forward.

Dr. James Fishkin of Stanford University, creator of the Deliberative Poll and one of the leaders of the What's Next California weekend, has carried out similar projects on important and difficult topics all over the world. Policy-makers are consistently surprised by the sophisticated tradeoffs and recommendations that result from citizen deliberation, and the people who participate and observe increase their levels of civic engagement long-term.

Prior reform efforts have either been based in Sacramento, or brought together distinguished panels that created interesting studies that by and large ended up on a shelf. This time, 300 Californians should give voice to the common sense ideas of every day Californians and spark a serious debate throughout California.

California Forward is involved in this bipartisan endeavor because we believe in the wisdom of Californians and know reform will not be achieved, kept, or have the intended impact unless Californians believe it truly comes from them, and is for them. This work listens to people in a way that moves us in that direction.

Stay tuned, California. The people are about to speak!

Lenny Mendonca is a director of McKinsey and Company. David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. The are both members of the CA Fwd leadership council, and together they represent the bipartisan leadership of What's Next California.