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Poizner to spend his own money on term limit fight

Times Staff Writer

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner committed his personal wealth Tuesday to defeating a Feb. 5 term limits ballot initiative that would allow current legislators to stick around a few more years.

Poizner called the initiative a “naked power grab” by sitting Democratic legislators and said he would spend at least $1.5 million to educate voters against it.

A national group called U.S. Term Limits also donated $1.5 million Tuesday, suddenly enriching an opposition movement that until now had struggled, gathering less than $200,000 in contributions.

Poizner, a Republican who made a fortune as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur before he entered politics, said he would be chief spokesman for the campaign and spend more than $1.5 million if necessary.

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“Proposition 93 has been written very cleverly by the authors, mainly the legislative leaders, to fool voters into thinking that Proposition 93 will actually shrink -- tighten -- term limits when in fact Proposition 93 will do exactly the opposite for the vast majority of people in the Legislature,” he said.

The initiative would shorten the overall number of years a lawmaker could serve in the Legislature from 14 to 12 but allow politicians to serve all of those years in either the Assembly or Senate. It would allow Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) to stay six years beyond 2008, when he would otherwise be forced out by term limits. Senate President Don Perata (D-Oakland) could stay an additional four years if Proposition 93 passed.

Initiative backers say the “modest” tweak to California’s 17-year-old term limits law would slow a revolving door that ousts lawmakers before they have time to master complex public policy. The measure’s “aim is simple: to make the Legislature more efficient and effective,” said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the Yes on Proposition 93 campaign.

Proponents have raised $3.2 million since January, most of it from unions, corporations and others with business before the Legislature. At least seven Assembly Democrats have donated a total of $260,000 from their political committees.

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Raising money to defeat Proposition 93 won’t be easy, Poizner said, because those seeking favor in the Legislature will be reluctant to anger lawmakers.

Poizner is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2010, but denied Tuesday in a Sacramento news conference that he was leading the fight against Proposition 93 to make his name better known among voters.

“Frankly there’s nothing more important than having competitive elections in this state, and Proposition 93 is going exactly the opposite direction,” he said.

nancy.vogel@latimes.com

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