Term-limits turmoil

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.

Proposition 93 would make a good law better
By Steve Westly

California’s term-limits law was passed 17 years ago to bring fresh faces and new ideas into the Legislature. It has worked.

The power of the Legislature combined with term limits have brought California landmark environmental legislation, historic civil rights bills and once-in-a-generation investments in our infrastructure.

These accomplishments have kept California as a state of “firsts.” In 1990, we were among the first to get term limits. Since then, 14 other states have followed our lead — and California has some of the strictest term limits of any state.

Despite our legislative gains, California’s term-limits law could work even better. Proposition 93 is a common-sense revision that would maintain the safeguards provided by term limits while improving the quality of our representation in Sacramento.

Right now, legislators can serve three terms of two years each in the Assembly and two terms of four years each in the state Senate for a total of 14 years. This discourages long-term thinking to tackle California’s biggest challenges, such as the state budget, healthcare, water issues and transportation.

The flaw in the current system of term limits is that it keeps legislators from gaining enough experience to be truly effective. We’ve come a long way as a state with the system we have — and we can do better with a reformed system of term limits.

The Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act is a modest, balanced reform that adheres to the core principles of term limits. It provides a solid time horizon for legislators to gain the experience they need to be effective and maintains a healthy turnover.

That turnover keeps ideas fresh and allows California to maintain its reputation as the center of innovative public policy.

Proposition 93 would reduce the total amount of time a legislator can serve in the Legislature from 14 to 12 years and allow a legislator to serve all 12 years in either the Assembly, the Senate or a combination of the two.

The 12-year limit in Proposition 93 would make sure a legislator’s time in office couldn’t be measured in generations — but would allow the time to gain experience to be effective. Additionally, by allowing legislators to serve their entire tenure in either the Assembly or Senate, Proposition 93 would drastically reduce the amount of political jockeying that dominates Sacramento, as legislators would not be consumed with moving up the political ladder.

Proposition 93 comes at an important time for California. With a budget deficit headed north of $14 billion, major healthcare reform on the cusp of being a reality and a host of other issues looming, we need experience where it counts: in the Legislature.

“Experience” means legislators who not only have achieved sound objectives but who have encountered the pitfalls of tackling major challenges. Without success and failure, learning is impossible.

As a recent Center for Government Studies report, “Termed Out: Reforming California’s Legislative Term Limits,” (PDF) states, “On balance, the benefits of a 12-year plan outweigh its negative consequences without undoing the gains achieved by term limits.”

The time is right to reform term limits and make our Legislature as effective as it can be.

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.

A power-grabbing scam
By Steve Poizner


I’m glad to see your very strong praise for California’s term-limits law. I’m sorry to say this, but Proposition 93 couldn’t possibly be in more direct conflict with the spirit of term limits. It would undo much of the good you write about.

Unfortunately, Proposition 93 isn’t a reform but a scam — a cynical attempt by powerful politicians to trick California’s voters into sabotaging the existing term-limits law.

In fact, Proposition 93 is all about the Legislature’s top leaders keeping the power they have and amassing even more. Proposition 93’s primary sponsors are the also its primary beneficiaries — termed-out Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez who could keep that post until 2014, and termed-out Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who could hang on to his position until 2012 if the measure passes.

So let’s be clear about the fundamental change that Proposition 93 would make: lengthening terms for most legislators, not reducing them.

That’s fine if you oppose term limits, but Proposition 93 is being marketed as a “reduction” in terms that would strengthen term limits. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Proposition 93 would double terms in the Assembly from six years to 12 years. The measure would increase state Senate terms by 50% — from eight years to 12.

What’s more, Proposition 93 has a special loophole that would benefit 42 incumbent politicians who are termed out by giving them more time in office. That’s where Nuñez and Perata come in. Some politicians would even be able to serve 18-to-20 years in office — just like before term limits.

In fact, Steve, the study of California’s term limits and Proposition 93 by the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies you cite reports that 95% of incumbent state senators would serve beyond 12 years in the Legislature if Proposition 93 passes, and 60% of senators would serve 18 years.

What’s more, the analysis found that Proposition 93 would actually increase by four years the amount of time legislators would serve in both the Assembly and Senate. As the report states, “Notably, these are equivalent to tenures prior to term limits.”

Steve, the report did not support Proposition 93 but instead expressed concerns about the initiative’s special loophole for incumbents. I encourage people to read the entire report at

The study also states that term limits curb the potential for corruption by politicians and weaken the chance for politicians to develop close relationships with lobbyists. Proposition 93 would loosen term limits and greatly damage this curb on potential corruption.

Bottom line: Proposition 93 dramatically increases — not reduces — terms for legislators, and thus increases the potential for corruption and the influence of lobbyists. There’s a reason why Proposition 93 is funded by millions of dollars from major special interests with business before the Legislature.

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

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