Term-limits drama engulfs Capitol’s chattering class

Last Wednesday evening, a wildfire of political whispers whipped through the Capitol’s after-work cocktail scene. From Chops to the Esquire, the buzz was spreading that the initiative to alter the state term-limits law was in danger of missing the February ballot.

The orchestrated plan to pass the initiative involved moving up the state’s presidential primary and creating a separate election, in part so that current legislative leaders could hold on to their jobs.

Now, the rumors said, those months of planning and millions of dollars spent were in danger of being all for naught.

The rumor was the kind that serves as junk-food sustenance for Capitol insiders. More often than not, they are baseless and evaporate quickly. While quiet speculation had been circulating for a day or so, a posting by conservative activist Mike Spence on the FlashReport brought the whispers to a critical mass.

And yet, facts were at a premium. Spence reported the circulating rumor that Los Angeles County was going to report a 59 percent validity rate for its signatures. Since Los Angeles accounted for 25 percent of all the signatures submitted, such a low valid percentage could have led proponents to miss the February ballot.

All along, proponents insisted there was nothing to worry about. The following morning, the speaker held a Democratic Caucus, organized in part to discuss fundraising for the initiative, and the speaker’s expectation of various members to contribute to the February campaign. The rumors had sparked some concern among members, but the speaker ensured his caucus that all would be worked out within a day or so.

“Early last week, I heard those same rumors–that L.A. was coming in at 59 percent,” said Fred Kimball, an initiative veteran who was in charge of the signature-gathering effort for the term-limits measure. “My process [of verifying signatures] said we were going to be over 70 percent.”

When asked if he was concerned about the rumors, Kimball said, “I’ve been in this industry too many years to make wild claims without seeing what the numbers are.”

The issue all along was not whether or not the term-limits initiative would eventually go to voters. The issue was whether it would make the February ballot. Placement on the February ballot was critical because, if the measure is passed in February, current incumbents will be allowed, under the new law, to run for re-election.

If the law is not changed in February, a number of legislators, including current Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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