Proposition 93: Limits on Legislators’ Terms in Office
Initiative Constitutional Amendment - Majority Approval Required
In 1990 term limits was needed. Campaigning against and beating a political incumbent was and is one of the most difficult things to do, which in turn provides little opportunity for fresh faces and new ideas. The biggest hurdle to overcome was the distinct fundraising advantage that an incumbent politician had. Fundraising also empowered the lobbyist and special interest groups who delivered the bulk of the money to an incumbent’s financial war chest.
In the fight for term limits Assemblyman and Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown was the poster child for the call to limit the length a politician could stay in office. Willie Brown served in the Assembly for 31 years and was the Speaker for 15 years. He was the most powerful man in California and nothing happened without his approval. Of course he wasn’t the only politician who had extraordinary long terms in office but he epitomized the need for term limits. Prop. 140 was passed to infuse new faces and fresh ideas and to limit the influence held by lobbyist and special interest groups over politicians.
Term limits in the present form allows a politician a total of 14 years of service in the State Legislature, six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate. While the intent of Prop. 140 was well intentioned, it gave birth to a new set of problems that beset the voters and effectiveness of the Legislature.
The biggest issue with the present term limits is the brain drain. Serving as a Legislature takes time to learn the ropes, build the relationships, and the time to see legislation through. The results of term limits has created a turnover that is not meeting the needs of the State by providing experienced leadership to handle such issues as the State budget and health care.
Then there is the fact that politicians are now consistently running for office. In the Assembly they run for office every two years and before their second term has expired they are already looking for another seat to run for. Term limits has done very little to limit the influence of lobbyist and special interest groups, in fact it has given them power, we only have to look at the energy deregulation which is a result of lobbyist influence and money. Newly elected politicians not only look to lobbyist for fundraising support but also look to them for background, information, and expertise that years on the hill have afforded them.
As for new faces in the Legislature all we have been seeing is a shuffling of politicians between the State Senate and the Assembly.
We still need term limits; we just need to fix the present form. Proposition 93 is a step in the right direction. Instead of limiting the terms to six years in the Assembly and 8 years in the Senate, Prop. 93 will allow for 12 years to be served in one House or a combination of both. This would fix the problem of the brain drain in the legislature and the incumbent would be allowed the time (this goes back to the fact that incumbents rarely lose on election night) to learn their job and see their legislation through.
The argument against Prop. 93 is that it allows, for some, present legislatures to serve more than 12 years such as Shirley Horton and Fabian Nunez, but in the overall view this is a small price to pay to fix a much bigger problem with the present form of term limits.