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California Voters Approve Term-Limit Reform

California voters have approved a tweak to term limits that supporters say will promote consistency and reduce the influence of lobbyists.

The measure asked voters to decide whether to reduce the total number of years a politician can serve in the state legislature from 14 to 12, while boosting the number of years a politician can serve in either the state Assembly or the state Senate.

Currently, a legislator can serve six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate. Proposition 28 would allow legislators to serve 12 years in one house.

The changes would apply to any legislator already in office.

Supporters of the measure, including the California League of Women Voters and California Common Cause, argued it closed a loophole allowing politicians to serve up to 17 years by filling partial-term vacancies that aren't counted as part of their limit. They said the measure also stopped politicians from jumping from office to office.

"Once elected, they start holding fundraisers and looking for their next office," supporters wrote in the California Voter Guide. "Politicians looking ahead for their next office are not concentrating on representing concerns of their current district."

Opponents, including the National Tax Limitation Committee and U.S. Term Limits, argued the measure tricked voters with deceitful ballot language. The official ballot language said the measure:

"Reduces the total amount of time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years. Allows a person to serve a total of 12 years either in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of both. Applies only to legislators first elected after the measure is passed. Provides that legislators elected before the measure is passed continue to be subject to existing term limits."

The ballot language does not say current term limits are six and eight years for the Assembly and Senate, and that the measure would extend that time to 12 years. Opponents wrote the measure is "one of the most dishonest and deceitful ballot measures in the history of California" in the state voter guide.

Supporters of the measure raised $2.2 million with donations from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Pacific Gas & Electric and Majestic Realty, a real estate development company that wants to build a football stadium in the City of Industry. Opponents raised $150,000 with donations from the Liberty Initiative Fund and Howard Rich, a New Yorker who chairs Americans for Limited Government.

Term limits were first passed by California voters in 1990. Vlad Kogan, a Ph.D. candidate at UC San Diego, told KPBS part of the campaign at the time focused on Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a powerful Democrat who nicknamed himself "Ayatollah of the Assembly." Republicans wanted him out of office, so the term limit issue became entangled with partisan politics.

In 2008, a similar ballot measure was defeated by voters. But that measure would have applied to current legislators, so it was seen as a "backroom deal" to allow current lawmakers to serve longer terms.

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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