California Prop 93: Lawmakers Try To Extend Term Limits For Themselves

Billed as a “necessary tweak” to California’s term limit laws by proponents, California Proposition 93 on the February 2008 ballot is little more than a bait and switch and a classic example of how politicians try to subvert democracy for their own personal gain.

Currently, California has a term limit law that limits state assembly-persons to 6 years (or 3 terms) in that body and state senators to 8 years (or 2 terms) in that body,  for a total of 14 years combined in those offices. After an individual has reached their limit in an office, they have to go back to the private sector or get elected to an office outside the state legislator. These term limits were voter approved as a way to inject fresh ideas into government and prevent the kind of pay to play system that has destroyed real democracy in government. Also, these term limits served as a guaranteed way to get rid of incumbents who do not truly serve the interests of their constituents, but rather their special interest donors or their narrow party platforms. Since incumbents have a natural electoral edge in any contest (mostly because of voter apathy), the limits prevent any sort of legislative dynasties from being created. At least, in theory.

Prop 93 changes all of that to reduce total time allowed in office from 14 years to 12, but allows all 12 years to be spent in a single office. Again, proponents argue that by increasing their allowable time in one office, they can “better learn” the ways of legislating. What they’ll really do is get extra time to learn how to cozy up to big donors and make their own personal fortunes better in the process while continuing to learn how to ignore citizens and force bad legislation on the citizenry of the state.

Two soon to be termed out legislators are leading the drive to get this term limit change passed into law- Fabian Nunez, Speaker of the California State Assembly and Don Perata, President pro tempore of the California State Senate. Both will be termed out of office without the new legislation. Frankly, they should be termed out. Neither of them is a shining example of good stewardship in government. And they are both Democrats too.

Nunez has come under scrutiny for spending thousands of dollars of campaign money on personal expenses. Perata has been under investigation by the FBI since 2004 for shady political donations from Indian tribes while advocating for expanding gaming pacts to those same tribes. Both men spend considerable time advocating legislation to benefit illegal immigrants at the expense of legal state citizens and both have had their hands in California’s horrible financial mess. Neither merits more time in office, IMO. And while that may be beside the point, it also is exactly the point. After all, these two guys are spearheading this whole idea so they can stay in office longer. It’s not really about creating a better government so much as it is about these guys keeping their jobs.

It would be one thing if this proposition were created and backed by voters who truly felt their legislators needed more time in office to make things work right. They didn’t and they don’t. This proposition is funded primarily by lawmakers and unions and/or special interests with a vested interested in keeping these politicians in office. That’s what makes this proposition so self-serving and cynical. By pretending that they are shortening the terms of lawmakers (which I suppose they technically are), these self-serving politicians hope to fool voters into letting them keep their jobs, their bribes, and their cozy lifestyle.

Proponents say that politicians need more time to learn the system. I say that the system is broken and that giving these folks more time in office doesn’t help a thing. If we aren’t going to ban special interest money and move to publically funded campaigns…if we aren’t going to get a chance at real redistricting (right now the politicians even draw their own district boundaries)…then at least we should be able to toss the bums out of office after their somewhat short terms are up.

And really…the founders of our democracy never wanted politics to become a career for anyone anyway-because then government becomes nothing more than a bunch of little dynasties, not so unlike the feifdoms and kingships we shunned in forming this country.

Vote no on California Prop 93 if you get the chance.

5 Responses to “California Prop 93: Lawmakers Try To Extend Term Limits For Themselves”

  1. rube cretin Says:

    Ken…can’t help you with a vote,but agree with your analysis. one thing i have observed with term limits however is that with a steady turnover of politicians you get yourself some powerful bureaucrats. they become powerful and valuable because they know the issues and how to get things done. many times they have agendas more insidious than the elected officials and can play the game with lobbyist with the best of them . American history is full of very powerful bureaucrats. some good, some bad. all your problems won’t be solved with this solution, but its a bone to throw to the public who sometime need to believe they are in charge.

  2. Ken Grandlund Says:

    yo are right rube- bureaucrats do stymie a good amount of institutional change when new lawmakers come in, just as they help facilitate these new lawmakers into the “way of politics.” In many cases, the bureaucrats are as bad as the politicians, acting as gatekeepers between the public and what is done in their name.

    I think that ideally, government should be much more fluid in terms of who holds what posts- else we never really advance towards new policies or positions.

    However, one step at a time. For without new politicians, there are no new policies for bureaucrats to follow or screw up.

  3. rube cretin Says:

    institutional knowledge and resistance is recognized as major pluses and minuses of the bureaucracy. i have personally known a number of elected officials and bureaucrats and the most effective and corrupt have usually been the latter. Does the name J. Edger Hoover mean anything to you? But, i sure am glad you California folks have solved all your serious problems and are now about the small stuff.

    Seriously, just don’t try to sell it as a major solution to your problems. some of this stuff is very complicated and having a little experience can be a real plus. seems like this issue is being discussed in other contexts these days.


  4. steve Says:

    I am with you Ken… I am totally voting no.

    We need more Republicans, Independents and other free thinkers in the state legislature too. One party rule has put a stranglehold on California…

  5. rube cretin Says:

    steve…i think you ought to run for public office out there in cali. break the stranglehold. put you ideas before the people and test them. i’m sitting here watching Mitt give is concession speech and he sound a lot like what i here from you. go for it.

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