Term limits made things worse, many backers now say

August 1, 2010

Twenty years ago, California enacted the toughest term limits law in the nation, but today, many of those original supporters now regret their decision. [Mercury News]

“Of all the mistakes I’ve made in public life, the one I regret most is advocating for term limits for the Legislature,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, a leading conservative figure in California who was one of a small number of incumbent legislators who backed the term limits measure two decades ago. “It has harmed the institution badly.”

Recent investigative reporting by the San Jose Mercury News documented a rise in the proportion of bills sponsored by outside interests since term limits took effect. The newspaper articles exposed a system in which novice lawmakers, eager to build a record of accomplishment and collect campaign money for their next election, increasingly lean on lobbyists and special interests not only for ideas for bills but also for help in shepherding those bills through the legislative process.

Current term limit restrictions in California are six years (three terms)  in the Assembly and eight years (two terms) in the Senate.

Former Democratic state Attorney General John Van de Kamp was a leading supporter of Proposition 131, which imposes term limits for the Assembly and state Senate. “We were very conscious of the sentiment that there had to be some kind of relief from the ‘old boys’ syndrome that affected Sacramento,” he said.

“You do want new blood in Sacramento periodically, that’s important. And no system is perfect. But compared with what we had before, this has not been an improvement.”

Last week a new measure gathered enough signatures to qualify for the 2012 election, calling for a change in term limits–if approved, representatives in either house could serve a maximum of 12 years.

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Let’s do both – have a part-time legislature with limited (if any) compensation beyond actual expenses coupled with campaign finance reform. For the latter, how about only being able to contribute to the campaign of someone you can actually vote for? That eliminates all corporations, unions, and lobbies.

IMHO, we need to go back to the basics as it was originally intended.

A limited government with the voters being represented by “public servants” who serve a single term (not a lifetime position), being compensated in a limited amount of salary comparable to private business managers (not six or seven figures plus perks and 90% salary at retirement till death), accountability enforced by a public review of all budgets and spending and elimination of lobbying and donations made by lobbiests for starters…

I can agree with you that compensation for elected officials should be in line with the private sector, and that pensions and other perks should be severely reduced or possibly eliminated, but I still think that “public servants” need to be able to learn their job before they are termed out. Even if all lobbying influence were eliminated, you would still have those in civil servant positions being able to “direct” the new crop of elected officials every two or four years, and those civil servants are not elected or answerable to the general public because of that. And yes, public review of all budgets and spending is a good way to go as well, as is having some sort of means to somehow “punish” legislators if they don’t pass a budget on time.

Question: Do you really think the average intelligent citizen could do any worse than the lifer lawyer legislators who bank rolled their election with millions of dollars, then spend decades in office doing little, and rake in oodles of money they really don’t need and they still can’t seem to get a budget in on time?

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe some elected politicians actually do good and intend to serve the public that elected them. But IMHO, you can take 90% of them (from both parties)and toss em overboard. They are ineffective, unaccountable and wastrels who have nothing but their own interests in mind…

bob and easymoney both have good points. I think if we could start with campaign finance reforms limiting the funds that lobbyist can contribute; then we would be well on our way to cleaning up all sectors of gov. It’s also time to demand accountability at every level. Analyzing budgets during an annual “citizens” audit process would go a long way to streamlining our over inflated gov as well.

“Question: Do you really think the average intelligent citizen could do any worse …. ” YES. Once again, I’m not arguing about the inefficiencies of the current setup in Sacramento, but, as I have already pointed out, even IF you could rid Sacramento of all lobbyists, you would still have the civil servants “guiding” the citizen legislators in any direction they choose; is that alright with you? The legislators need to be able to do their job without being “told” how to do it by those who may have an agenda.


I am from the old school and expect my legislators to actually do something productive. I want them to go back to serving the public part time for a modest sum, not serve lifetime memberships in some country club or monarchy where we pay for all their whims and foibles…

And I agree that lobbiests need to be taken out of the sphere of influence on goverment…

I was against term limits when they were first proposed, just for the reasons illustrated here. Too many thought that Willie Brown was just too damn powerful (which I can agree that he most likely was) but the results that are now coming out definitely show the weaknesses of having too many unelected people in Sacramento wielding too much power and/or influence over the representatives that barely learn how to do their job effectively before they are termed out. To make a real difference in how Sacramento works though, we need some real change in how our system up there works; a radical means of implementing change? How about publicly financed campaigns IF you can qualify to strict guidelines, meaning that you have to have so many signatures that you have gathered (meaning that you cannot pay someone to gather signatures for you), then you receive the financing, and ONLY that financing can be used for your race, removing ALL other monies from political races. The result would mean that those voted in would answer to the people who elected them, not the lobbyists or consultants, and having longer terms like the 12 years proposed would also help make some serious changes. Another change would be to prohibit any lawmaker from becoming a lobbyist for at least 4 years after they leave elected office, in that way we can close the “open door” that is currently the “norm”. And if any of these seem like good ideas to you, you might also consider changing to Instant Runoff Voting, which would save costs for holding elections, and would also give independent candidates a better chance of getting elected. These are just a few ideas that could make a real change in Sacramento, but those in elected office would almost never chance taking a positive position on these issues, because there is still way too many lobbyists that have influence over them.