The following is a transcript of a story that originally aired on The California Report.
Host, Paul Lancour: Proposition 28 on the June 5th primary ballot would modify California’s legislative term limits. At last poll, more than 60 percent of likely voters – from both sides of the aisle – said they were likely to vote for it. Roughly 30 percent of those the Public Policy Institute of California surveyed oppose the measure. The California Report’s Rachael Myrow spoke with John Myers, political editor at KXTV in Sacramento and former KQED Sacramento Bureau Chief about the proposition and what it would do.
John Myers: What Prop. 28 would do is, it would modify the existing term limits law for members of the state Legislature. Now we’ll remember that term limits were put in place by voters back in 1990. They limit a lawmaker to no more than six years in the State Assembly and no more than eight years in the State Senate. That could be 14 years if they could serve in both Houses but it would limit them to those amounts and it has for 20 years.
Prop. 28 would change that, it would allow a lawmaker to serve 12 years instead of those limits, but all in one House. So the backers of Prop. 28 say, “Well look it, this is a reduction in time in office for a lot of people from 14 years to 12 and they say you can also serve it in one House and therefore have a little bit more experience, a little bit more seniority to understand how the state works.’”
And opponents of Prop. 28 say this whole idea of just making it a more efficient government is really just another way of kind of hiding the fact that this would let people be in office for longer. And this really does, I think, come down to the question of incumbency and for voters, what do they think the value of incumbency is. Is there a value to being in office longer, learning the job or do they want people to serve less time and go back home and do whatever they do? That’s really the question they have to figure out on Prop. 28.
Term limits, let’s remember, were set up to promote this idea of citizen legislators. You know, the so-called Mr.-Smith-goes-to-Washington or Ms.-Jones-goes-to-Sacramento phenomenon. I think in general what we really have seen though, rather than those citizen legislators, we have seen more local officials, city councils, county supervisors coming into Sacramento and as a report last year found, a lot of ex-legislators still stay in Sacramento just like they did before term limits. They become consultants and lobbyists and they don’t go back home.
Whether Prop. 28 fixes the problems in Sacramento remains to be seen but there are a lot of people who say, “Look, you know, we got to try something,” and that’s what they hope voters will do come Tuesday.
Rachael Myrow: There have been a couple of attempts to rejigger the law. Why didn’t those fly with voters?
Myers: I think one of the problems Rachael, with the former efforts to modify term limits is that they did impact sitting legislators and that is a key difference that we should point out about Prop. 28. In the past, existing legislators, some of them, would have been able to stay in office longer. The measures were quickly panned as a way to help fat-cat incumbents who were currently in office to stay in office longer.
Prop. 28 only takes effect for future members of the Legislature. So every single member of the Legislature now, all 120 of them, would not be able to stay in office longer if Prop. 28 passes. I think that distinction between people in office and future fixes for the state of California has a lot to do with where we are.
Myrow: It’s not necessarily a split, liberals versus conservatives, Democrats versus Republicans?
Myers: It really isn’t. You look at the polling and the Public Policy Institute of California had a poll out just recently, you look at the polling Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Conservatives, Liberals all think that Prop. 28 seems to be worth a shot here. And I think the opponents of Prop. 28 have had an awfully hard time explaining why the current system works though they claim things will be worse if lawmakers get longer in office. They’ve had a hard time convincing people that it’s not worth a shot.
Myrow: So this naturally raises the question, who are the opponents of Proposition 28?
Myers: The opponents of Prop. 28 are pretty much the same people that have supported traditional term limits, they’re the same backers from term limits back in 1990. There’s a national term limits organization that has put a little bit of money into this and a wealthy multimillionaire from back east whose put a little bit of money in its. But I think they may have looked at the polling and realized that Californians may be ready to change this.
And we should point out — not every state in America has term limits for its legislature. And most of them have a little bit more flexibility than California’s has had. And I think you will find even some veteran members of the Legislature, some former members, from both sides of the aisle, say that California is a complicated place, complicated to govern, and you need people who have a little bit of time to figure that out and aren’t constantly either being pushed out of office or looking to make the jump to another office.