Ushered out by term limits, many state legislators feel like they're leaving at the worst possible time: just when they have become good at their job.
Imagine for a moment that you've just taken a new job. You're not entirely familiar with the position, but you're idealistic, energetic and intelligent. You're still getting to know the names of your colleagues when one of them reminds you that no matter how hard you work, nor how well you perform your duties, you'll be laid off in six years. No exceptions.
So goes life for an incoming legislator in states across the nation with legislative term limits. The idea was to foster a return to the "citizen legislator" ideal, wherein a diverse range of social interests were represented in the country's state capitols. Instead, many argue that term limits have only given rise to a more nuanced set of problems.
At the end of the day, politics is a matter of relationships—between voters and their representatives, elected officials and their colleagues, and leaders and the rank-and-file. Effective policymaking requires effective relationships in the legislature, and those take time to grow. When that time is limited, it's only natural to see certain adverse effects emerge in the policymaking process itself.
So, what's it like to be a state legislator on the way out via term limits? By rights, it can be disappointing, liberating and stressful—all at the same time. Some legislators savor the freedom afforded them to vote their conscience instead of according to the polls. For others, the political intensity only increases as they seek political jobs elsewhere.
Perhaps the most intriguing thread running through a legislator's final term is one of disappointment. Many wish they could have accomplished more during their time in the legislature, and even more feel that they could achieve even greater objectives now that they have some experience under their belt.
In the interviews that follow, veteran California legislators Joe Canciamilla and Jerome Horton discuss their final term in the state Legislature. As their comments suggest, time alone won't heal the structural problems endemic to our political system. (But it probably wouldn't hurt.)