An anti-choice law?

Today, Insurance Commissioner Poizner and former Controller Steve Westly discuss voter support for term limits. Previously, they debated what impact Proposition 93 would have on legislators' time in office and the effect of the current term-limits law on California politics. Later in the week, they'll discuss redistricting reform and more.

Experienced lawmakers, more informed votersBy Steve Westly
Term limits for legislatures are a reality in 15 states. For these states, term limits serve as a vehicle to maintain consistent turnover. They ensure a constant supply of fresh faces and new ideas.

In California, term limits have helped make our state Legislature one of the most diverse representative bodies in the country — if not the world. But because California was one of the first states to institute term limits, ours were not well conceived. They impede efficient, effective government.

California's term-limits law — known as Proposition 140 — was passed by 52% of voters in 1990. On Feb. 5, voters will have the opportunity to approve Proposition 93.

The reforms in this initiative would make the state Legislature more efficient and effective — and allow greater accountability for legislators and choice for voters. Ultimately, be it through legislative races or term limits reform, voters make the ultimate choice as to who will represent them.

Proposition 93's reforms are significant because of the broader impact they would have on making the state Legislature more functional.

Currently, 12 of 34 legislative committees are chaired by first-year lawmakers. These committees determine the laws that affect our schools, housing, jobs, public safety, transportation and the environment. Under Proposition 93, legislators could gain experience before chairing a committee. This would benefit the process and, ultimately, the voters.

Proposition 93's reforms would also slow the constant campaign cycle that exists now. Termed-out legislators start campaigning early to win a seat in the other house or another office. Instead, legislators would continue to work for — and campaign to — constituents in their home district.

Overall, voters would become more familiar with their legislators, giving them the opportunity to make more informed choices at the ballot box.

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.

Keeping elections competitiveBy Steve Poizner

Once again, I am glad to see your strong praise for term limits and their positive impact on California and the Legislature. Unfortunately, your support for Proposition 93 is in direct conflict with those views.

This measure is a self-serving and dishonest scheme by termed-out incumbent politicians to remain in office. That's why so many newspapers have called Proposition 93 a "scam" and a "trick."

The question asked by The Times today is, why shouldn't the public be allowed to vote for whomever it wants for as long as it wants?

The answer is that the ability of voters to choose in elections is restricted in California — not by term limits, but by the politicians' self-interested gerrymandering of legislative seats. Incumbents simply don't lose, and seats don't switch from one party to another, thanks to these safely drawn districts.

Examine the numbers. Of the 459 possible elections for the Assembly, state Senate and Congress since the 2001 gerrymander of California's legislative districts, only a single seat changed partisan hands. In those same 459 elections, only a single incumbent lost. That was a seat in Congress — not the Legislature.

There is something very wrong when the reelection rate for incumbent state legislators in California is 100%. There was more competition — and turnover — in the Soviet Politburo.

Today, the only way politicians ever leave office in California is because of our existing term-limits law.

Term limits are actually responsible for what choices voters do have. They create open seats and, therefore, competitive elections, at least in primaries. Term limits provide opportunities for new people with fresh ideas and different backgrounds to run for office.

Term limits provide the only real accountability we currently have for legislators. Proposition 93 would remove the last remaining check on powerful politicians by greatly weakening term limits.

Proposition 93 would double Assembly terms from six years to 12 and increase Senate terms by 50%, from eight years to 12. An independent report by the Center for Governmental Studies found that Proposition 93 would increase by four years the average time legislators spend in both the Assembly and the Senate.

The real impact of Proposition 93 would be increased terms. The longer politicians are in office, the more power they accumulate and the harder it is to unseat them — even without gerrymandered districts.

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

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