Would SCA-24, revising term limits, be the solution?

This past week I had breakfast with an elected south county official where we covered several policy issues including the impacts of “term limits.”

In June of 1998 we debated and voted on term limits in Mission Viejo. While activists lobbied for setting a cap of two, four year, terms for city council members, the council gave us a “take it or leave it” ballot measure to decide if we wanted to set a “limit of three consecutive terms” or vote no limits at all.

I just received an email from the California Progress Report which ironically addresses the same topic of term limits. I will add some of their remarks in this post and add their full story link at the end..

In any discussion of “term limits” in the CA legislature I guess we can all cite the “unsinkable Willie Brown” career politician as the spark for our term limit policy. Speaker Brown served over 30 years including 15 as Speaker of the State Assembly. In Nov 1990 California voters felt we needed to establish term limits for each house of our state government and voted approval of Prop 140 setting a maximum of three 2 year terms in the lower house and two 4 year terms in the state senate.

Recently there has been discussion of changing term limits via passage of a “Constitutional Amendment calling for reducing the number of years an individual can serve in the legislature from 14 to 12 years, but would allow individuals to serve three four-year terms in the Senate or six two-year terms in the Assembly or a combination of the two.”
In promoting SCA 24, Democratic Senator Loni Handcock has stated “If anything has demonstrated the need to revise the term limits law, it is certainly the disastrous budget process we have been going through,” Hancock said in a statement to media announcing the new legislation. “Increasingly inexperienced legislators are dealing with increasingly complex challenges and a dysfunctional governance system.”

While it is easy to point fingers, at times we need new blood with fresh ideas. In a state of nearly 37 million I would hope that we can find citizens with the talent and desire to serve in our legislature. One change to consider, as stated by others, is to go to a part time legislature as is true for 17 states with “part-time, low-paid lawmakers.”

We need to focus on which level of government to address in this debate.

As stated below the president of the United States can only serve two terms yet members of Congress can serve as long as they can get reelected. W.Va. senior Senator Robert Byrd has been in the Senate for 50 years.

While term limits enables us to cycle out those who are not performing we also lose talented legislators who fought the good fight for the taxpayers of our state such as former Senator Tom McClintock who is now serving in Congress. In addition to his many battles to reform redevelopment and eminent domain legislation, Tom was a leader in reducing the VLF (Car Tax) fees for all motorists.

Another former member of our state legislature, responsible for amending eminent domain law (AB 1290), was Democratic Assemblyman Phil Eisenberg. I add Phil to show both sides of the political spectrum. Phil, a Democrat, once carried a Bill for Republican Dan Lungren that appears in my final comments.

Those on the East coast have read that NYC Mayor Bloomberg has talked about changing their state laws to enable him to run for a third term. Juice readers may recall that I have even joked about “president for life” Barack Obama.

Whatever you decide do not engage in “ready, fire, aim.” We can make a case for both sides of this issue. One factor relating to the present system is that bureaucrat’s in the Capitol become more powerful when we have constant turnover.

Some elected officials and their supporters say they need more time to understand the issue (and find the closest rest room). Sorry, but running a state, whose budget exceeds $100 billion dollars, leaves no place for bench warmers. We voted you into office based on your rhetoric that you have solutions to the challenges ahead.


Closing comment. Let me share a tale of how term limits impacted a Bill being moved forward by Phil Eisenberg in Sacramento. Following is from an interview of senior Sac Bee columnist Dan Walters who has his fingers on the pulse of our state legislature. In this interview Dan addresses having your name on a Bill about to be voted on as you are about to leave office.

Interview with Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee. “If you put your own name on the bill, you control it. You can control it right down to its death if you want to. Whereas if somebody else puts his name on it, that control is lost. That’s what (Senator Bill) Lockyer had done. Note: Lockyer adjourned the Senate before the bill reached the floor. And then he had a confrontation with Phil Eisenberg in one of the back hallways of the capitol. Literally as the place was clearing out, he and Eisenberg ran into each other and, and Eisenberg said in effect, “Why did you do this to me? Why did you kill it? Why did you kill it?” And they got into a big row over the thing and Lockyer, who has a very short temper, yelled at Eisenberg, “F— you, Mr. Termed Out!” Meaning it was the last legislative session for Eisenberg, who was being forced out of legislature by term limits. “F— you, Mr. Termed Out.”

This story could be written about Tom McClintock. My knee jerk reaction is that there are those in our state Legislature who hated Tom and would never support his bills simply because his name was listed as the sponsor. Politics is a contact sport.

About Larry Gilbert