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Prop 93 Seeks to Balance Experience and Term Limits

California voters are being asked to tweak the legislature's term limit law on February 5. Supporters say changes need to be made so lawmakers can develop experience. Opponents argue term limits are w

Prop 93 Seeks to Balance Experience and Term Limits

California voters are being asked to tweak the legislature's term limit law on February 5. Supporters say changes need to be made so lawmakers can develop experience. Opponents argue term limits are working just fine. KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson has more.

Proposition 93 supporters say they want to make California's term limits law better. The state's voters decided in 1990 that two terms in each house of the state legislature were enough.

Kousser: It’s no surprise that there's a lot of attention, a lot of money on this fight.

UCSD political science professor Thadd Kousser works for the Prop 93 campaign. He says term limits have changed the way politics happens at the state Capital. But he says not all for the good.

Kousser: Constituents in California don't know their legislators as much any more. They don't get as much communication with them and legislators say they aren't spending as much time working for their constituents.

Kousser says Proposition 93 actually rolls back the number of years a lawmaker can serve in Sacramento. The current law allows two terms in the Senate and two in the Assembly. That adds up to 14 years.   Prop 93 only allows lawmakers to serve 12 years in the state legislature, but that can all be served in one house. Former California Department of Finance director Tim Gage says the term limit law forces inexperience lawmakers to take charge of complex issues. Supporters argue that opens the door to undue influence from lobbyists.  

Ad: More time to solve problems. Prop 93 strikes a balance. Tim Gage: The benefits of term limits. The benefits of experience. Announcer: Strike a balance. Yes on 93)

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most prominent politician to endorse the measure. He says that current term limit rules have hurt the legislature's independence when it comes to hashing out complicated issues like the state budget. 

What the Yes on 93 commercials don't mention is the measure's transition period. It lets 42 termed out lawmakers run for office again.   That's why California Insurance commissioner Steve Poizner put two and a half million dollars of his own money into the No on proposition 93 effort. He says newspapers around the state agree.

Poizner: They're all calling it a transparent sham. A naked power grab. Self-serving. So I'm not alone in my views here and I feel that once voters get a whiff of the fact, that this will just help a bunch of career politicians stay in power, people will vote no on 93 and it will go down in flames.

Legislative leaders Don Perata and Fabian Nunez are driving forces behind the Proposition 93 effort. Both stand to get extra time in office if the measure passes.   The Senate and Assembly leaders are also the targets of the media campaign against the measure.

Ad: Newspapers call 93 self serving, a sham to protect their opulent lifestyles, whose sole effect is to keep the same ineffective politicians on the job. Save term limits. Vote no on 93.

The non partisan Center for Government Studies examined proposition 93. Analyst Sasha Horowitz says the measure is a fairly good proposal that's just done the wrong way. He says arguments can be made that lawmakers need more experience, but that comes at a cost.

Horowitz: I think it would give increased expertise, a bit, and that's important, I mean, some issues take a few years to really get a handle on. But I'd say there are plenty of reasons to that shorter term limits might be helpful. Like increased diversity.

Horowitz says the term limits law passed in 19-90 has significantly increased the number of latinos serving as state lawmakers.   He says today's legislature more accurately reflects the state's population.

The latest Field Poll shows likely California voters are split on the measure. Thirty-nine percent support it. Thirty-nine percent are opposed.   A month ago, voters favored the measure by about 18 percentage points.

Erik Anderson KPBS News.

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