In light of California’s penchant for over-regulation and the state’s annual budget crisis, it’s hard to make the case that the United States Congress should look to Sacramento for an example of effective government. There is one guiding tenet California has adopted though that may be worth replicating at the national level– term limits for legislators.
California is one of fifteen states to mandate maximum term limits for state-level Assemblymen and Senators. With the approval of a 1990 ballot measure, voters in California limited state legislators to serving a maximum of two four-year terms in the Assembly and three two-year terms in the Senate, for a total of 14 years in the legislature.
On June 5, Californians will determine if those limitations will be amended when they cast their votes on Proposition 28, a ballot measure that would limit legislative careers to a total of 12 years, but that would allow politicians to spend their entire time in either, or both, of the state houses.
Seemingly legitimate arguments have been made both for and against Proposition 28.
Supporters of Prop 28 include groups like California’s League of Women Voters and California Common Cause, a nonpartisan citizens' lobby organization. Proponents of the measure argue that the current system, which requires more experienced lawmakers to change legislative houses in order to continue their careers, forces politicians to spend too much time running for office, limiting their ability to focus on providing quality governance.
Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, also notes that the high rate of turnover among legislators caused by the current term limits system leaves a perpetual crop of rookie lawmakers vulnerable to the superior experience and tactics of powerful corporate and industrial lobbyists.
Opponents of Proposition 28, citizens like Anita Anderson of the group Californians for Term Limits, assert that the new rules are “deceptive and misleading” and are nothing more than “a sneaky way of increasing the terms.”
To the degree that Prop 28 simplifies the re-election process for politicians who would no longer have to switch legislative bodies and districts in mid-career, this claim may hold true. But, given that the proposed new rules strictly and specifically reduce the maximum number of allowable years of service from 14 to 12, the opposition claim that Prop 28 softens term limits rings absolutely false.
Opponents declare that Prop 28 makes bogus claims to strengthen term limits, while supporters assert their intent is simply to fix a broken system. In reality, the differences in the current and proposed term limits are fairly subtle. Additionally, the new proposal contains built-in safeguards that prohibit any current officeholder from leveraging the new term limit rules to extend his or her legislative tenure.
If Proposition 28 passes, there is considerable potential upside to be found in building a more experienced and knowledgeable legislature, and with the additional safeguards to prevent abuse of the new rules, there seems to be every reason for Californians to vote YES on Proposition 28.
Find daily blog posts from Jeff McKown at http://thewaythingsturn.blogspot.com/.