Prop 28: The Latest Political Thriller

MAR. 21, 2012


Proposition 28, the latest ballot initiative attempting to alter the 1990 term limits law, has all of the elements of a good political thriller: Deep Capitol insiders, elite bureaucrats, politicians and the political elite, a misleading ballot measure title and summary, crony capitalism, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, labor unions and money.

Jack Nicholsen could star in this movie.

Term limits were passed in 1990 by voters to ensure that legislators would serve a limited amount of time, and then go back to their private sector jobs and businesses. Instead, term limits created a class of elite, career politicians and an elaborate, well-paid state bureaucracy, according to opponents of Prop. 28.

On Tuesday, a Joint Informational Hearing was held on Prop. 28, joining the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments and the Assembly Committee on Elections. The hearing was only one hour in length, but packed a punch much bigger than most four-hour hearings.

Voters passed term limits on the Legislature in 1990 through  Proposition 140, a constitutional amendment. Members of the California State Assembly are limited to three two-year terms and members of the California State Senate to two four-year terms. It also imposes a lifelong ban against seeking the same office once the limits have been reached.

While several of the legislative committee members acknowledged that they would not have had the opportunity to run for statewide office without the term limits law in place, it was evident that there is support for the measure within the Legislature. And that is causing many in the state to question why.

The Legislature has no ability to alter the law, but it is required to hold an informational hearing.

Sponsors and Support

Proposition 28 is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and is supported by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

Trudy Schafer with the League of Women Voters testified that the term limits law needs to be changed because the Capitol has become a merry-go-round of career legislators. “Politicians don’t serve and then return to their previous life,” Schafer said. “Proposition 28 is simple reform. Opponents are creating a smokescreen of misinformation.”

“Term limits opened the door on special interests and lobbyists,” said Philip Ung of Common Cause. “Outside interests influence more than one-third of the bills. Common Cause wouldn’t be a proponent of Prop. 28 if it opened the door to more lobbyists and special interest,” Ung explained.

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor/AFL-CIO Executive Secretary/Treasurer Maria Elena Durazo issued a statement about Proposition 28 when they submitted the signatures for the initiative. The statement:

“This reform does exactly what is says it will do. It will reduce the time a politician can spend in the State Legislature from 14 to 12 years. This time can be served entirely in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of the two.”

“There are no gimmicks, no hidden agendas and no exceptions,” said Toebben and Durazo. “This reform is being placed on the ballot by California voters, not politicians. It is a fresh start that builds on the intent of the original term limits law.”

Perhaps most telling is this statement from Toebben and Durazo: “Californians know our current system has created a merry-go-round of politicians looking ahead to the next office instead of focusing on the state’s complex issues. By reforming term limits, we will get a fresh start with lawmakers who will gain independence from lobbyists, develop expertise and be accountable to the people who elect them.”

The statements from Toebben and Durazo sound exactly like the testimony from proponents at Tuesday’s hearing… kind of a party line.

But it’s the use of the word “reduce” that has so many up in arms over the initiative. Proponents insist that no sitting or former legislator, or anyone on the ballot this year, will benefit from this change, and that the new law will reduce the total years in office.

Opposition to Prop 28

“The proponents of the measure are longtime opponents of term limits who have long wanted to roll back California’s voter-approved legislative term limits,” Jon Fleishman of the Flash Report and “No on 28” volunteer co-chairman recently wrote. “When you clear away all of the misleading and dishonest rhetoric, Prop. 28 increases the number of terms one can serve in the Assembly from three to six, and in the state Senate from two to three.”

Fleishman charged legislators with promoting crony capitalism by using the power of government to pick winners and losers, and “to get favorable legislative outcomes in return for largely financing a ballot measure in favor with politicians.”

According to Fleishman, the Los Angeles Labor Federation contributed several hundred thousand dollars for the Prop. 28 campaign.

State Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, thanked Fleishman for the direct and lively testimony. “How expensive is it going to be to get elected now?” Correa asked.

Correa talked about how term limits has become such a problem within Capitol politics. That because state agency bureaucrats know legislators will be gone soon enough, they don’t return phone calls or answer legislative inquiries.

Correa also told about colleagues who push headline-grabbing legislation because they know they will be gone before the ramifications become reality. “I’ve heard legislators say, ‘We’re out of here.'”

Proposition 140, the 1990 Term Limits law, also:

* Stopped the practice of state legislators earning state retirement benefits from their service in the state Legislature.

* Limited the total amount of the California State Legislature‘s expenditures on staff salaries and operating expenses.

Related Articles

CA GOP needs ideas, not just money

March 11, 2013 By Steven Greenhut SACRAMENTO — Most of the activists, insiders and lobbyists I talked to during this

Steinberg the Philosopher

Turns out that Senator Darrell Steinberg isn’t just a Democrat, legislator from the Sacramento area or President Pro Tem of

CA Dems Hold Looters' Convention

MAY 2, 2011 By JOHN SEILER H.L. Mencken called elections “advanced auctions of stolen goods.” That certainly was true of