With Poizner’s checkbook, the term-limits battle is joined

Steve Poizner didn’t just announce he was writing a $1.5 million dollar check to defeat Proposition 93 Tuesday. He also took what may amount to the first shot in the governor’s race for 2010.

Speaking to reporters across the street from the Capitol, Poizner pointed the finger at Attorney General Jerry Brown for what he called the “lie” in the title and summary of Proposition 93.

Currently, legislators can serve three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate—a total of 14 years overall.

Proposition 93 would change the state’s term limits law by shortening the overall amount of time served to 12 years, but allow members to serve that time in either house.

The legislative leaders also include a “grandfather clause” for sitting Senators that would give Senators scheduled to be termed out next year an extra term. Among those that would get an extension are Senate leader Don Perata and Republican Leader Dick Ackerman.

But Poizner took umbrage with the attorney general’s summary of the measure, saying it was “written in a misleading, confusing way” to try to convince voters the measure would punish the very lawmakers who are pushing for the measure. Indeed, a recent Field Poll showed the measure had strong support among Republican voters who traditionally have advocated for tough term-limits laws.

Poizner, a Silicon Valley millionaire who has heavily bankrolled his own political races, announced Tuesday that a new committee was being formed, headed by Poizner, to fight Proposition 93. The move is reminiscent of when Poizner opted to head Proposition 77 in 2005. That measure, backed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, would have changed the way the state draws legislative districts.
In 2005, Poizner chipped in more than $2.7 million, and starred in campaign ads pushing for Proposition 77. On the other side, then as now, was Speaker Fabian Núñez and Perata. The measure was easily defeated along with the governor’s other special election initiatives.

A spokesman for the Yes on 93 campaign took a shot at Poizner and other opponents of the measure Tuesday. “ “Poizner is aligning himself with a bunch of extremist nut-jobs who want Blackwater-like private police forces, toll roads for every road and can’t disclose their campaign donors. That’s a stink even $1.5 billion won’t wash off,” said  Yes on 93 spokesman Richard Stapler.   
“Poizner should remember that if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get fleas.”

Taking control of the committee, and opening his checkbook, will give Poizner the opportunity once again to be the face of the No on 93 campaign, and to introduce himself to voters in the run-up to his expected 2010 run for governor.

When asked whether he would appear in campaign ads for the No on 93 campaign, Poizner said, “I don’t know about any campaign ads, but I’m going to be the primary spokesman” against Proposition 93.

Poizner acknowledged that the move would “create a lot of enemies for me” in the Legislature. “This won’t make my life any easier.”
But it does give him a chance to shore up some conservative bona fides, and help defeat a measure that is formally opposed by the state Republican Party.

“Any time I get involved with my checkbook, I also get involved as a leader,” Poizner said.

Poizner spent some $15 million on his own 2006 race for insurance commissioner. Two years earlier, he spent some $8 million on an unsuccessful race for a Silicon Valley Assembly seat.

The involvement of Poizner, the ranking GOP state official after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will force a high-stakes ballot showdown with the Legislature’s Democratic leaders, who have raised millions of dollars to win passage of the initiative, Proposition 93, on the Feb. 5 ballot.

The Committee for Term Limits and Legislative Reform, a creature of Speaker Fabian Núñez, has raised more than $2.6 million so far this year, according to records from the Secretary of State’s office. More than $2 million of that money has already been spent. Núñez has another $5.2 million in his personal account that could also potentially be used to fund the Yes campaign.

Meanwhile, opponents of the measure had raised just over $200,000 so far this year before the announcement Tuesday. Poizner’s $1.5 million comes in tandem with $1.5 million from U.S. Term Limits, the original sponsors of the state’s term-limits law.

Poizner’s involvement in the political fight over the ballot initiative has enormous potential consequences, including his ability to match the pro-Proposition 93 forces dollar-for-dollar.

Poizner is also the co-author of some of the ballot arguments against Prop. 93. “Proposition 93 is an arrogant and self-serving power grab by career politicians,” the statement reads. Poizner co-authored the statement with Martha Montelongo of the California TermLimits Defense Fund and Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The potential political upside for Poizner is clear.

The insurance commissioner is expected to be a candidate for governor in 2010. If he spent money to defeat Proposition 93, he could decide to blanket the state with television ads which could also help introduce him to California TV watchers.

It could also build some good will with the cash-strapped and talent-seeking California Republican Party, which has officially opposed Proposition 93. Poizner, a moderate who has given money to Democratic candidates before running for office, could earn himself some chits with the Republican base by actively opposing Proposition93.

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