Election 2012: Prop 28 Would Change Term Limit Law

Measure would double the length of time lawmakers could serve in the Senate or Assembly, but limit the total time they could serve in the two houses combined.

Proposition 28 on the June ballot would fundamentally change California’s law mandating term limits for members of the state legislature.

The measure would increase the length of time that any one elected official could serve in either house of the state legislature to 12 years, up from six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. It would decrease the total number of years that an official could serve, however, from 14 years to that same 12.

Opponents say the initiative would give elected officials – many of whom run from safe seats where they face little opposition - way too much time in a single job.

But supporters say Prop 28 would address an unintended consequence of the state’s 22-year-old term limit law: politicians who have little knowledge or experience in their jobs and are continually seeking new elective offices for which to run.

“Lawmakers are constantly running for the next office instead of focusing on the work they were elected to do,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a spokesman for Californians for a Fresh Start, which is backing the campaign. Moreover, he said, newly elected representatives know little of the issues they will face, and are more easily manipulated by lobbyists.

The measure would reduce this constant movement, Sanchez said, by allowing legislators to remain in either the assembly or the senate for long enough to gain experience, but then cut them off, so they could not then move to the other body.

The initiative has the support of the California Area Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters and the California Federation of Labor, among others.


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Throughout the state, politicians who have served the maximum number of terms in one job frequently move on to another in a near-constant merry-go-round of electioneering.

California is full of examples: In Los Angeles, Councilman Richard Alarcón started on the City Council and then moved to the state Assembly, followed by the Senate and a second stint on the Council, where he still serves. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas also served on the City Council, followed by stints in the Assembly, the Senate and now the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

But Jon Fleischman, a spokesman for Californians for Term Limits, which opposes the measure, disputed the idea that it’s a bad thing for termed-out politicians to keep running for new positions in other government bodies. Rather, Fleischman said, elected officials are more responsive to the public if they are continually being scrutinized by voters.

Fleischman says special interests will have a greater role if lawmakers can serve longer in one house.

“We believe that serving in office for over a decade will cause politicians to go native and care a lot more about what the lobbyists and the special interests think, and not what the public wants,” he said.

The measure’s reduction of the total amount of time that politicians can spend in the legislature, he said, is dwarfed by the increased time they would be allowed to remain in a single house – particularly in districts that are considered “safe” for members of one party or the other.

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