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Term Limits: In Place For a Reason

by Susannah Kopecky, published

Perhaps it is a function of a Western independence, or a simple and clear recognition that a stale policy isn’t necessarily the best policy; or a combination of both. Either way, Californians have wholeheartedly embraced the idea of Legislature term limits over the last 20 years. In February, Proposition 93 was proposed to change the current term limit law and voters defeated it, evidence that Californians are still supporting state term limits.

California has a rich and varied history of grappling with term limits. Other ballot initiatives of the last 20 years have included Propositions 140 and 45, both of which sought to impose term limits on elected officials.

The governor and various mayors in California must also abide by term limits, and in most cases, this has been a good thing. The term “out with the old, in with the new” is not lost on most voters. When things are going badly, it’s time to change leaders; when things aren’t going so badly, it doesn’t hurt to change, either. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger inherited a struggling economy, and with today’s credit crunch, may leave at the end of his term with an economy still in stagnation. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has no long-lasting accomplishments as mayor, but his name is already being bandied around as a possible candidate for governor, post-2010. Thus comes the benefit reaping of the opposition party, come tenure-ending time in California.

There is a saying, so goes California, so goes the nation (this same saying is said for other states as well). In the last 20 years, this seems to be directed more towards general innovation and lifestyle changes, rather than government changes. Many technological and scientific innovations have been gifted to the world, in just the last 20 years, courtesy of Californian innovation. These advancements have generally come through the private sector, via innovations in technology, trade and the state’s historic entertainment industry, but effective leadership in local government has remained stagnate. Show Californians an excellent and effectual state leader, and perhaps arguments against limits will become moot. But it is currently no surprise that Californians have overwhelmingly supported term limits for state representatives.

Proponents of state-level term limits have found a willing audience in California. Prop. 93, sent to the voters in early February of 2008, sought to circumvent (and hamstring) the current term limits laws, under the thinly-veiled guise of “reform.” Prop. 93 would have allowed representatives to serve 12, rather than 14 years, in California’s Legislature (Some members would have been allowed to stay beyond the suggested 14 years anyway). In the days leading up to the election, many saw the amendment as less of a cap on term longevity, and more as a way for sitting representatives to circumvent state laws. It was handily defeated, and ironically so; the very same proposition that was labeled by its proponents as “reform” was in actuality a method for state and local representatives to juggle around their term limits. Californians defeated the measure, a move that once again showed Californian's support for real term limits.

Few of our recent notable state and local representatives have been stand-out figures for any form of landmark legislation, and there is no reason that these same figures should be able to hold on to their position indefinitely. If California leaders want to lead with creativity, effectiveness and stamina, then so be it. When Californians begin to see such notable leadership, then let the argument against term limits be resurrected. Until then, term limits serve a positive role in making sure that failed leaders do not have the opportunity to fail our state indefinitely.

Californians may change their minds on various trends, but they will undoubtedly vote to ensure mediocre career politicians do not run the Golden State.


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