Why is Proposition 93 so important? Legislators intentionally put this on the ballot hoping it would pass and therefore be in effect for the June Primary where all the state legislators who were termed out would get another term in the Senate and three more terms potentially in the Assembly.
Putting this into local terms, that means that Mike Machado, who is currently the State Senator for District 5 and termed out, could decide after February 5 to run for another term. That means that Assembly Lois Wolk would no longer run for the State Senate and would instead run for reelection to the State Assembly. That means that Christopher Cabaldon and Mariko Yamada would no longer run for the State Assembly and they would decide what they were going to do. Supervisor Yamada has indicated that she would not run for the County Supervisor spot, if she had, then that would put the candidacies of Jim Provenza and John Ferrera into doubt. It will likely mean that Mayor Cabaldon would run again for reelection as Mayor of West Sacramento.
In other words, depending on what Senator Machado does, the passage of Proposition 93 would have a huge cascading effect on local races, at least on the Democratic side. It probably would not impact the Republican side and therefore set up a tough race between Senator Machado and Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian for the Senate seat. Senator Machado narrowly defeated Former Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto in 2004. How would he fare in another tough race? Hard to say.
Local impact aside, the Proposition itself deserves scrutiny. The commercials I have seen interestingly enough feature a political scientist from UC San Diego. I happen to know Thad Cousser because he went to Berkeley for Graduate School in Political Science where I took a couple of classes several years ago. More importantly, he makes the argument that this initiative would promote better government by providing better experience for the legislators.
That is actually not entirely true. Overall it reduces the maximum number of years served in the legislature for 6 years in the Assembly and 8 years in the Senate, to 12 years regardless of the house in the legislature. One of the big problems with the current law is that there is no acquisition of expertise about legislative process. Once legislators learn the ropes in the Assembly, they have to move on. The same thing occurs in the Senate.
However, I would argue that while this might fix that problem in the Assembly by enabling people to serve up to 12 years there, it does not fix the problem in the Senate and in fact, could make it worse. That’s because most people enter the Senate after serving at least four and up to six years in the Assembly. That makes the State Senate a body that has greater expertise in legislative matters. However, by allowing members to serve their entire career in one branch, that means that many will come to the State Senate with no expertise in the legislature at all. Those who have served in the legislature would only be able to serve one or two terms in the Senate. So while it will make the Assembly more experienced, it does so at the expense of the Senate. In other words, instead of helping expertise, it simply shuffles the chairs on the deck.
The biggest problem for me is that instead of fixing the problems of term limits, it has become a way by which incumbent leadership can stay in power another four to six years. So the Speaker of the Assembly can remain the speaker for six additional years and the Senate leader another four years. In fact, it is specifically set up to do that by having the election in February so it will be in effect by June. By allowing current leadership to remain in place.
At the end of the day, I strongly oppose term limits because I think they are anti-Democratic. They prevent the voters from electing whomever they want to represent them. I think the expertise argument is important. California is one of the largest economies in the world and it is run by a bunch of novices at the legislative level and as a result, we get poorly written legislation and have given undue power to the permanent classes of lobbyists and aids in Sacramento.
However, Proposition 93 does little to change that. Any benefit it has for providing more stability and expertise in the Assembly is nullified by taking away that stability and expertise from the Senate. Therefore, it does little to change the way politics works in California. And for me that’s the bottom line. I have nothing invested in seeing the current class of largely ineffectual leadership in both houses of the legislature manipulate the process to remain in power another few years. If we are going to change term limits, let’s either extend the length of time people can serve or end it all together. Otherwise, we’re merely shuffling the chair on the deck without addressing the key problems.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting