The Truth Behind Prop 93: Less Time in Sacramento

by Paul Hogarth on November 20, 2007

Sacramento veteran Bill Cavala made a good point yesterday about Proposition 93, and how it would change California’s Term Limits law. Rather than let legislators serve up to 14 years in the State Capitol, Prop 93 would allow them to spend 12 years in the Assembly or the Senate, but not both. “[It] limits the current ban by two years,” he said. “The issue for voters is whether a trade of 12 possible years in one house of the legislature versus 14 years in both Houses is good – and why?”

My preference would be to just repeal term limits, and I imagine that Cavala (who spent 30 years working in the State Capitol) would agree. Since that’s not likely to pass, reforming term limits to let legislators spend more time in Sacramento is a good thing. But the drafters of Prop 93 had to be cute, and felt it was more politically palatable to reduce a legislator’s total tenure – rather than be upfront with the voters about their intent: relaxing term limits.

Because Prop 93 means less time in Sacramento, Assemblyman Mark Leno could only serve one term, if he wins the State Senate race next year. That’s because he’s already served six years in the Assembly. I would support Prop 93 if it allowed legislators to serve up to 14 years in either house – but the “out in 12 years” change is a step backward, not a step forward.

Cavala chides the press for not being direct with the voters, and explain them simply and truthfully what Prop 93’s practical effect would be. But the issues that the press has chosen to focus on are valid, because they speak about the motivations behind Prop 93’s drafters.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Don Perata would greatly benefit from its passage, because it keeps them in longer positions of power. So it makes sense why they have made Prop 93 a priority – and why they made sure that Perata didn’t fall through the cracks.

And the reason why Perata and Nunez pushed to schedule a Presidential primary in February was to place two “reform” statewide propositions: (a) one to amend the term limits law, which became Prop 93, and (b) another about redistricting reform. So the fact that the legislature failed to put redistricting on the February ballot is a valid point – and goes back to the Democratic leadership’s agenda.

Cavala is right when he argues that the ultimate question is whether Prop 93 is good public policy. As someone who supports the concept of Term Limits Reform, I believe that it’s not. But when the press discuss Prop 93 and its implications, bringing up Nunez and Perata’s motivations – and why they put it on the ballot – are fair game. Because that is almost as important as asking whether it’s a good idea.

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