Reform term limits

I have long advocated reform in Sacramento, and I am proud of what has been accomplished since I took office in 2003. Now we need to take other important steps to make state government even more responsive to the people we serve.

We need redistricting reform to make the political system more competitive and more representative of the citizens of California. We need campaign finance reform to limit the influence of money in politics, and it is time to reform legislative term limits.

Term limits have been on the books since 1990, and I strongly support the idea of restricting the number of years politicians can spend in office. Elected officials who serve for decades lose a sense of urgency to make things better, and they often fall out of touch with the public. But we went too far and need to make some important refinements, as we do all the time with legislation that needs to be corrected, because the people are not well served by the current system.

In fact, the current system of term limits -- which allows members of the Senate to serve two terms (eight years) and members of the Assembly three terms (six years), with a total maximum of 14 years -- is contributing to Sacramento’s problems rather than fixing them. I am endorsing Proposition 93, which would lower the total number of years a member could serve to 12, but also allows him or her to divide them between the houses as they choose. I am convinced that this would result in the people of California getting a more experienced, more independent Legislature.

It takes time to learn how to govern effectively. Under the current system, our elected officials are not given the time they need to reach their full potential as public servants. Just as they get seasoned in one house, they know their time is beginning to run out, and they must start positioning themselves to run for a new office.

Imagine what would happen if we told a big-city police chief or a sheriff he could stay in the job just long enough to start mastering it and then had to move on. Or if we told teachers they had to switch careers just as they started to accumulate enough experience and wisdom to really connect with their students.

Just look at the issues we are working on in Sacramento right now. We are debating the best way to make sure we never run out of water. How to reform one of the world’s largest prison systems. How to fix a broken healthcare system in California that consumes more than $200 billion a year. How to fix our schools. Our budget system. How to rebuild California’s aging infrastructure.

These are extraordinarily complex issues that have overwhelmed this state for decades. The people of California are not well served by so much turnover and the lack of expertise in the Legislature.

Our legislators should be given an opportunity to become outstanding at their jobs. To become policy experts who can make the kind of informed and forward-thinking decisions this state desperately needs.

The current term-limits law has created another unintended consequence that also must be fixed. It has ceded too much power to the special interests in Sacramento, because the unions, corporations and lobbyists take advantage of the relentless campaign cycle faced by legislators forced to seek a new position. Your representatives become more concerned with campaign cash, endorsements and independent expenditures than public policy. So they operate in fear of alienating the special interests they must constantly rely on for campaign money. Former Republican leader Jim Brulte had the right idea when he said he was endorsing Proposition 93 because it will give legislators the confidence to say “no” to special interests.

The constant jockeying for new positions also makes legislators more dependent on their political party and its most extreme elements. Allowing members to serve more time in the Assembly or Senate will help bring more civility and less partisanship to Sacramento.

When Proposition 93 was first introduced, I said I would not support it without a companion redistricting measure. Though some progress was made last year on that issue, we have not been able to agree on a redistricting measure in the Legislature; I’m supporting a proposal that was drafted by reform allies including AARP, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. But Proposition 93 is good public policy irrespective of redistricting, and on its own, it will go a long way toward improving the quality of state government in California.

The reform of term limits -- along with campaign financing and redistricting -- will create fundamental and positive change in Sacramento. The Legislature will be more representative of the people and less beholden to special interests. Its members will have more time to do their jobs well and, most important of all, problem-solving will be a higher priority than partisanship and ambition.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor of California.