Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

San Diego’s Politicians Take The Yellow Brick Road to Sacramento

It's March already. It seems like just yesterday that the 2008 election season ended, with the next California primary more than a year away on June 8, 2010 . This feels like breathing time between campaigns. Yet here we go again. Already potential candidates for the state Legislature have made their move for 2010. They've filed their "Statements of Intention" with the California Secretary of State. This they must do before beginning to fundraise for their campaigns.

From the looks of the list , there's no shortage of people who want to work in Sacramento. & These include incumbent Assembly members and state senators who are not yet termed out and want to stay in office as long as possible. Some wannabes who now hold local office want to move up. & Then there are those who have termed out or soon will and are looking for other opportunities.

For example, San Diego's State Senator Chris Kehoe will be termed out of office in 2012. & But she only spent four years (two terms) as the District 76 state Assembly member from 2000 to 2004 before running for state Senate and winning. So she could legally run for another 76 th Assembly term and still stay within the limits (three two-year terms). According to a recent phone conversation I had with her district representative, she hasn't ruled out that scenario.

But there's a big implied "however." It seems that when Kehoe was the San Diego City Council District 3 member, her chief of staff was Toni Atkins who went on to be elected to that District 3 seat when Kehoe moved up to the Assembly in 2000. & Now Atkins is termed out after serving for two three-year terms on the City Council and wants to run for Kehoe's old Assembly District 76 in 2010. That seat is being vacated by termed out Assembly member Lori Saldana who has listed her intent to run for the Board of Equalization. Board members have the possibility of two four-year terms and earn about $43,000 more a year than legislators. Back to the Atkins/Kehoe situation. If Atkins wins the 2010 election and runs for re-election in 2012, will this change Kehoe's mind about opposing her former chief of staff that year or is the lure of Sacramento too strong to resist?

In the South Bay, Assembly member Mary Salas filed her intention for both the 79 th Assembly District and the 40 th Senate district. San Diego City Council President Ben Hueso wants the seat that Mary Salas might vacate in the Assembly. & But Salas could have some stiff Republican competition from former Chula Vista Mayor Shirley Horton who is termed-out from her Assembly seat and has filed her intention for the 40 th Senate District. & And the termed-out Republican Assembly member who represented the 75 th District (Poway, Escondido, San Diego), George Plescia has filed his statement of intention to run for Lt. Governor (same salary as Board of Equalization).

There are more, of course. But why is there all this eagerness to be elected and re-elected to state government, considering the massive criticism of our legislators, especially recently over the state budget fiasco? And have term limits benefitted the public with fresh ideas, new faces, and short-term citizen legislators who serve the public interest and then return to private life as they were supposed to do?

Well, we are getting recycled legislators. And they do have enormous financial and psychic benefits which are hard to relinquish. There's the pay at $116,208 a year, the free car, free gasoline, a $400 monthly car allowance, and $138 per diem just for checking in or scheduling short Friday morning sessions before a three-day weekend. They work eight months a year and get paid for 12. They get to take "junkets," have solicitous staffs, and impressive titles. & It's heady stuff. For many politicians, Sacramento has become the Land of Oz, alluring for the novice, and addictive for the experienced. Term limits alone won't improve Sacramento.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.