In 1990 voters fed up with career politicians who had learned to game the system to perpetuate their careers and live a lavish lifestyle passed Proposition 140 to limit Assembly members to three two-year terms and State Senators to two four-year terms.
Assembly Speaker Willie Brown — who often behaved like the emperor of California — and his allies fought back taking their case for an unlimited length of service all the way to the State Supreme Court.
I know Proposition 140. I successfully argued in defense of Proposition 140 before the Court. And Proposition 93 being falsely advertised as a further reduction in terms is no Proposition 140.
Proposition 93 on the February ballot is a fraud designed to allow all current members of the Assembly to serve an additional six years and those in the Senate to remain for an additional four years. It is backed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez Senate President Don Perata and those groups that expect favorable treatment if these powerful lawmakers are allowed to extend their time in office.
Previously the governor had wisely stated that there should be no extension of terms without changes to the way legislative districts are drawn to make them more competitive. However now that the he has established an alliance with Nunez to impose a mandatory health-car program on all Californians he has jumped in on behalf of Proposition 93.
None of this would be so bad if backers of Prop. 93 were being honest about their goals so that voters could make an educated decision but they are not. Promoters are spending big bucks to fool the public into believing that it would actually have the effect of limiting terms rather than extending them. And adding insult to injury they have put taxpayers to the expense of a third election this year — you didn’t really think it was about the race for president — so if Prop. 93 passes they can be set to run in the June primary.
Proposition 140 the original term limits measure certainly has not solved all our state’s problems but then neither has it provided a cure for the common cold. What it has done is guarantee that the winds of change circulate regularly through the Legislature.
One of the visible results of term limits is that the Legislature is now more inclusive. There have been significant increases in the numbers of women and minorities elected to office. In short those serving under the Capitol dome now look more like the Californians they are elected to serve. And because lawmakers are no longer allowed to hang around until they grow old in office their collective energy level is up as well.
Those who oppose term limits — the politicians and those who have bought a stake in their careers — would have you believe that legislation is rocket science that it takes years to become good lawmakers. Believe me it does not. Often it is those who are just elected and have had the most recent contact with the folks back home that have the motivation and best ideas on how to solve problems that are important to all Californians.
Once lawmakers have been in office for a while they do learn new skills. They learn how to exchange favors with lobbyists and how to milk special interests for campaign support. Because of Prop. 140 just as they begin to hone these skills they are shown the door and their constituents are the better off for it.
While all sitting lawmakers would benefit from Prop. 93 lets take a look at the leadership.
Exhibit A is Fabian Nunez. As leader of the California Assembly the speaker has traveled the world in luxury paying with campaign funds for visits to some of the finest hotels and restaurants and for purchases at high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton in Paris.
Nunez has refused to respond to questions about how tens of thousands of dollars in such expenditures are related to legislative business although he insists he has done nothing wrong and the expenditures have been properly reported. Still the ability to run up a $1795 bill at a venerable Parisian restaurant is just one of many incentives to remain in office.
Exhibit B is Don Perata the Senate boss who continues to be the subject of a federal corruption probe. While it is unfair to prejudge the senator it is not unreasonable to suggest that his leaving on schedule and being replaced by someone without a cloud over their head would benefit his constituents and all Californians.
Nunez and Perata are the legislative leaders who brought us a $14 billion budget deficit and who are now suggesting that taxpayers must foot the bill for their overspending.
They and all lawmakers should leave on schedule. California has no shortage of well-qualified replacements.
Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.