The Sacramento shuffle

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former state Controller Steve Westly begin their weeklong debate by discussing what effect Proposition 93 would have on California's term limits. Later in the week, they'll debate redistricting reform, why voters favor term limits and more.

More time in office, more time for corruptionBy Steve Poizner

One can't help but find it dubious that the main proponents of Proposition 93 — incumbent politicians and their special-interest lobbyist allies — make the argument that this initiative would somehow curb politicians from running for office and engaging in fundraising.

"Stop me before I run again," seems to be their cry. Too bad it isn't true.

The fact is that the current term limits law hasn't created a bunch of office-jumping politicians. It's done just the opposite.

According to a report on term limits from the nonpartisan and independent Center for Governmental Studies, only 10% of California legislators serve both the maximum terms allowed in the state Assembly (three terms of two years each) and the maximum terms allowed in the state Senate (two terms of four years each).

Most legislators serve their time in one chamber and are then termed out. That's why Proposition 93 would actually dramatically increase terms for most state legislators because it doubles the terms in the Assembly (from six years to 12) and increases by 50% the terms in the state Senate (from eight years to 12).

That's worth repeating. Proposition 93 would not reduce terms for most legislators, but it would increase them, contrary to how it is being deceptively marketed to the electorate. The irony is that Proposition 93 means incumbents would be able to stay in office longer. Consequently, that means more campaigning and more fundraising by incumbent legislators because of their additional terms. (Of course, given the gerrymandering of districts by the Legislature, almost all of these races are not truly competitive. Somehow, that doesn't limit fundraising.)

California's term limits law also has succeeded in curbing the monopoly of — and potential abuse of — power by career politicians.

Editorial boards across the state have opposed Proposition 93 and criticized one of the biggest drawbacks to this cynical ballot measure — that it is anything but reform and is instead a self-serving vehicle by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) to remain in office for years to come.

Term-limits advocates and the analysis by the Center for Governmental Studies support the view that the longer a politician holds office, the greater the potential for abuses of power and ethical controversies.

One thing that terms limits has done is open up the political system and create opportunities for new people — particularly women and minorities — with fresh ideas to seek and hold office in California. This is a healthy and positive dynamic for our state and for our Legislature. Passing Proposition 93 would be a major step backward.

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner was elected in 2006 and is chairman of the No on Proposition 93 campaign.

Don't leave big problems to newcomersBy Steve Westly

You know very well our state Legislature can be more efficient and effective through term limits reform. As far back as 1996, the nonpartisan California Constitution Revision Commission suggested reforms similar to those in Proposition 93.

That's why groups as diverse as the California Labor Federation, California Small Business Assn. and Latino Issues Forum all support Proposition 93, as do teachers, firefighters, police officers and retirees. The point here is that all of these groups realize that Californians are better served by an experienced Legislature.

With time to specialize, legislators can better perform their crucial duty of providing checks and balances to the executive branch and state bureaucracy. This is the best way for legislators to ensure our tax dollars are well spent.

We're about to face a historic budget shortfall in California, and we're going to need the smartest, most experienced minds to solve this — not a group of newcomers.

An issue you continue to overlook is that Proposition 93 will make legislators more accountable. By gaining more policymaking experience, legislators will rely less on lobbyists and staff and more on their own know-how.

And let's set the record strait: The nonpartisan Center for Government Studies report you continually quote out of context clearly says that allowing a legislator to serve all of their years of service in one house or the other of the Legislature will be better for California.

Proposition 93 is a smart, simple reform that will make the state Legislature more efficient and effective. It will slow the electoral "musical chairs" as one legislator gears up to run against another to win a seat. This degrades the process — and ultimately doesn't help voters.

I completely agree that term limits have brought tremendous diversity to our state Legislature. Proposition 93 will not only maintain that diversity, but enable legislators to focus on the tough job before them.

Steve Westly is the former state controller and is currently chief executive of the Westly Group, a venture capital firm that invests in clean technology companies.

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