Term Limits, how we got them, whether we should change them.


California’s disfunctional state government has got “private enterprise” competition, in the form of pay-for-play ballot initiatives. The coming primary election will contain a ballot initiative that modifies the existing term limits for state offices so that instead of up to 3, 2 year, terms in the state Assembly and up to 2, 4 year, terms in the state Senate, future office holders could serve up to a grand total of 12 years, distributed as they see fit between Assembly and Senate. That’s good, IMHO, and I support it.

Unfortunately, the proposal, Proposition 93, then goes on to grant some “grandfathering” rights to 44 of the incumbants now in office. That’s not so good, and I’m disinclined to support it.

The present up-or-out system results in too many uninformed legislators trying to find the washroom when they should be doing my business quickly and efficiently. It also results in the legislator who maxes out spending 6 of 14 years as a lame duck in the chamber they serve in, and creates unnecessary susceptability to lobbyists in form of the bi-cameral switcheroo which amplifies the dire role of money even beyond the well known advantages confered by incumbancy.

Term limits were created by people who wanted to force Willie Brown and other carreer politicians, particularly Democrats, out of Sacramento, but didn’t live in their districts and/or couldn’t mount or pay for a successful campaign against them. It was a bad idea, and it hasn’t delivered what it promised. The legislature hasn’t notably improved in any measurable way (budgets on time? No. Balanced? No. Etc.) What has changed, as predicted, is that experise, such as it is, rests more with the staffs and lobbyists and state employees than with our elected government.

Prop. 93’s authors must have known the grandfathering clause would be a key weakness, Bad as term limits are, generally, its hard to argue that any group of 40+ legislators in the present or past state senate or assembly deserve special considerations. In the interest of fairness, I’m ok with holding those currently in office to the limits in place when they were elected. I realize this is somewhat arbitrary, but Life Isn’t Fair, and this won’t make the process look like it favors some players.

Which brings up the issue of government by initiative. This is a poorly constructed initiative, which does a big thing I want and a small thing I don’t particularly want. But its not severable, and there can’t be negotiation in the initiative process. So I am opposed to this version of a solution, and I’d like to see the term limit raised to 12 years, irrespective of
house. It’ll have to be by popular vote, because the existing limit was established by popular vote.

Better luck next time, Proposition 93 people.

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