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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Local Races Appear to Be On as Proposition 93 Losing Badly in the Polls

The Field Poll released on Monday shows that Proposition 93 is losing 46% to 33% with another 21% undecided. Traditionally undecided voters for propositions break against them.

As I have explained in the past, while I find myself strongly against term limits, I equally find myself opposed to this measure.

For me term limits are both anti-democratic and also on a practical level an abysmal failure. We have a legislature that is largely inexperienced and the second that they become experienced, the legislator is termed out of office. Moreover, from a democratic standpoint (small "d"), the people should have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.

It is the revolving door aspect of the legislature that Proposition 93 attempts to deal with, however, in my view, fails. It is true it extends the term in a given office, in the case of the Assembly, from three two-year terms to six two-year terms. From that standpoint, it improves the expertise in the Assembly markedly.

However, it has to rob Peter to pay Paul. And so while it increases the amount of experience in the Assembly, it decreases the amount of experience in the Senate. Right now the vast majority of legislators spend six years in the Assembly (sometimes four) and then move on to the Senate for eight. That means that there is experience among Senators from day one who have served already in the Assembly. With this law it is unclear what happens in the Senate. Will people run for the Senate having served time in the Assembly? That would reduce their amount of time in the Senate. Will people run for the first time in the Senate, that will produce a body much less experienced in legislature, to the point where the Senate will look much more like the Assembly than the current body.

Practical considerations aside, the big clincher for me is the fact that this process was set up to protect the current leadership. They put this specifically on the February ballot so it would take effect immediately and allow legislators currently slated to be termed out to run for re-election. Not surprisingly this measure is sponsored by the Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate Majority Leader Don Parata. It is thus a measure aimed at preserving and prolonging their time as leaders in the Assembly.

Moreover it throws current races into chaos. At a local level the stakes may have been quite high. There is what could be called a Grandfather clause in the initiative. It would allow current legislators to serve 12 years in their current office regardless of whether they served in the other branch. Thus Senator Mike Machado who served already in the Assembly, would be allowed a third Senate term.

If the position passed, Senator Machado would be able to run for re-election to the Senate. That would force Assemblywoman Lois Wolk to stay in the Assembly where she could stay another six years if she so chose, or at least four years until the Senate seat opens again.

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada would not have a seat to run for. Supervisor Yamada has already stated that she will not run for re-election for the County Supervisor position so at least the dominoes do not carry past the 8th Assembly Race.

All of this appears moot at this point as the proposition is failing.

And while I think this is a flawed law, it is also a sobering reminder that term limits are here to stay for a long time, because if this law, which is basically neutral or even more restrictive in terms of total terms cannot pass, no term limits reform law will likely pass.

The Field Poll puts people like me in the minority, with the majority of liberal Democrats strongly favoring the bill and a smaller majority of more moderate Democrats also favoring the bill.

However, I just do not believe this solves the problems of term limits. All it seems to do is protect the current leadership and frankly I have seen nothing from the current leadership that makes me want to see them protected.

Tomorrow it seems very likely that the Assembly races will launch again in earnest. Mayor Cabaldon has decided, it appears, to not accept voluntary campaign limits. Supervisor Yamada in the latest disclosure did not raise a lot of money and spent more than she took in. Meanwhile Lois Wolk will face a tough fight against Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian for the 5th Senate District.

As we can clearly see, campaign season is not over. After today, it has only just begun.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting