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Opinion: People support term limits because they distrust politicians

Ever since the people of California, back in 1990, passed Proposition 140 and imposed term limits on California’s Constitutional officers and the state Legislature, there have been efforts promoted by political insiders to do away with those limits, or at least to weaken them.  At every turn the voters have rejected these attempts, maintaining California’s term limits, which are the strongest in the nation – two four-year terms for statewide officeholders and state Senators and three two-year terms in the Assembly, with a lifetime ban in place after these limits have been reached.

Financed by public employee unions and by a businessman who was currying favor with the Legislature to get laws waived on his behalf, yet another measure will come before voters at the next statewide election, likely in June, to substantially weaken legislative term limits.  While this effort is very likely to fail, it will not be the last such attempt.  Politicians and the people engaged directly with them find term limits to be an inconvenient insertion of the people’s will into what they prefer to be a Patrician process.

There has been an increased level of “chatter” amongst California’s elites as they have expressed their pleasure (especially newspaper editorial boards) at a new research paper released by the Center for Government Studies  (CGS) that is critical of term limits for, among other reasons, not achieving the desired goal of proponents of creating a “citizen legislature” where ex-pols go back home to live under the laws they helped create, and also for causing a “dearth” of experience within the Legislature.

The CGS study asserts that because many termed-out legislators tend to find other positions within government, that in doing so they do not actually return back to private life.  With all due respect to CGS, I can name dozens of former legislators that I know of who actually have reached their term limits and are back home.   Either way, the one place we know termed out legislators are not – is continuing to serve in the state Legislature.

And as to the criticism of the experience level of legislators, somehow this is always measured in terms of “experience at legislating” – which is not the metric in question.  The goal is having a regular stream of people going into the Legislature bringing real world experience — from the private sector, ideally.

In seeking to weaken term limits, advocates still continue to avoid confronting key reasons why voters imposed them in the first place.  Californians passed term limits because they believe that most politicians in this state are self-serving, and have pursued an ultra-liberal policy agenda for California that does not enjoy the support of most California voters.

Have term limits fixed the problems with the state Legislature? Unfortunately, they have not.  We still have a plethora of self-serving politicians in the Legislature.  We are talking about people who have not one but two government-funded vehicles (most with fancy license plates demonstrating their aristocratic leanings), and buckets of taxpayer money to blanket voters with propaganda thinly disguised as surveys or public service announcements, and the revelation that as of this week, the Assembly will not make public the office budgets of individual legislators.

Worst of all, however, is the audacity of the Legislature to continue to propagate a system where they know how to spend the hard-earned dollars of California taxpayers better than those who actually earn them.  The tax-and-redistributive policies in the state Capitol have reached epidemic levels, to the point where it is damaging the economy as a whole.

Which gets to the basic point – that one of the fundamental reasons why voters continue to support term limits, and oppose efforts to weaken them, is that they are in no hurry to “reward” a political class that they believe is doing a poor job.  In a recent Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California survey, respondents gave a paltry 25 percent approval rating to the legislature, and a whopping 59 percent disapproval rating.

Instead of focusing on how to give politicians more time to serve in the Legislature, perhaps more attention should be placed on actually finding ways to improve the work product of the Legislature.  But therein lies the challenge.   While the people, across a broad spectrum, disapprove of the job the Legislature is doing, California’s political elite want more of the same.

They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Nowhere is this more true than in the State Capitol.  The good news is that term limits is just one of a number of solid reforms enacted by the people, that make it clear that they, and not the political class, are ultimately in charge.


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