Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Two Dans, A Deal, And A Duh

Dan Walters looks at the leap-frogging effects of state legislative term limits on "up" and "down" ballot races. But he gets it wrong when it comes to the local government impact - at least in LA's case:

Legislative term limits, however, changed the political value system radically. Aspiring politicians could no longer carve out long-term careers in Sacramento, and the term limit ballot measure also erased legislative pensions. Suddenly, unlimited stints on large county boards of supervisors, the Los Angeles City Council and other local positions previously seen as lower in the political pecking order became more attractive. A case in point: Antonio Villaraigosa won a seat on the Los Angeles City Council after serving as speaker of the state Assembly and last month was elected mayor. And congressional seats gained a political luster they had once lacked.
What Walters misses here is that all the LA offices he mentions are term limited. Not always, but the most recent limits were applied to the County board of supervisors in 1998 (I believe) and Villaraigosa's council seat was certainly limited when he ran for it after his Speakership ended.

And Dan Weintraub (the other runner-up) looks at term limits as another chip on the negotiating table:

Schwarzenegger knows that hardly anything is more important to legislators than term limits. After all, lawmakers needn't worry about much else if they cannot run again for re-election. So the issue will always be in the governor's quiver as a potential closer if he and the Democrats ever get anywhere near to a deal.

Adopted by voters in 1990, California's term limits allow legislators to serve up to three terms in the Assembly and two in the Senate. The law has been a mixed bag for the state. Aside from the fact that term limits are anti-democratic, depriving voters of the right to elect whomever they choose for the Legislature, their effect on the institution is difficult to pinpoint.

Amen on that anti-democratic bit, brother.

Weintraub acknowledges the good: a more diverse, representative - or "representative," if you prefer - body; seemingly less corruption as committee empires of power crumbled; fewer former aides serving in the body (hey, wait a minute, what's wrong with that? Weintraub says staffer service produces political in-breeding and "a lack of real-world perspective" - I'd say that in a term limited environment, how else will would-be members learn the ropes?). He also mourns the loss of the good eggs who were forced out.

In the end - the consequences aren't what 140's proponents hoped for:

And while advocates of term limits believed that the change would usher in an era of noble-minded citizen politicians, in truth the new legislator, on average, is every bit as ambitious as the old. As soon as they are elected, today's members start scouting out their next job - political or otherwise - because they know that at best they will serve six years in the Assembly or eight in the Senate.
Weintraub sees the amending of term limits - from a specifically proportioned 14 years to a self-selected 12 years in either house - as a way to increase knowledgeable service by legislators while still holding at bay many of the ills limits still hope to reform.

I think, as he mentions, that any proposal to muck with limits will drag down the governor's reforms because term limits - as much as they've mangled the state - are as sacred-cow-like as Prop 13: most voters don't really get it, but they don't want you to mess with it anyway.

And clumping term limit reform with redistricting reform would likely doom them both. Two of the least sexy issues ever (except to nerds like me), the hit pieces for which practically write themselves. I dream of substantive redistricting reform and of the end of term limits (and shortly thereafter, the end of initiatives generally), but like so many dreams, that one just won't be coming true.

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