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Term Limits: The Good, The Bad & The Inevitable PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jana Saastad   
Wednesday, 28 March 2007
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In taming the "career politician," term limits have also gutted the Legislature's body of experienced lawmakers.

When California voters passed term limit laws in 1990, they viewed their decision as the rational conclusion to a period of public frustration.

Seventeen years later, Californians still have their frustrations. Now they also have a new set of problems.

The people's legislature?

California voters hoped to craft an idyllic citizen legislature full of creative thinkers and civic-minded citizens, only it didn't entirely work out that way.

Term limits have not necessarily given voters what they wanted, says Dr. Kimberly Nalder, a professor in the Department of Government at California State University of Sacramento and a published researcher on term limits.

"In terms of what's good for democracy, term limits have not lived up to their billing," she argues.

For starters, Nalder explains that the power grab voters wanted to eliminate has now shifted to lobbyists and special interests.

"Term limits have decreased the power in the legislature branch and every member knows that the minute they enter office," Nalder says.

Assembly members say term limits have created more of a give and take system, but they haven't distorted the legislative process directly.

Knowledge and experience

"If you create a situation where expertise is not found with a member, naturally a lobbyist will step in and fill that hole," said Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian, (R-Stockton), who terms out in November 2008. "But democracy has been an ongoing experiment in our country for more than 200 years and this is a new thing we're doing here. You have to remain mindful of the will of the people."

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, (D-Santa Barbara), relies on his staff and advocates, but is cautious with his decision-making.

"You have to make sure you are diligent in spending time with people from all points of views," explains Nava. Without that extra effort to seek out different viewpoints, the whirlwind of a term-limited legislature can foster tunnel vision. 

Shorter long term

Because legislators are in and out of office in hurry, Nalder says they don't have time for the necessary long-term plotting on important issues.

"They don't have the incentive to look at long-term solutions," she explains. "An example is how are budgets have been handled in recent years. It is much easier to balance it on the credit card when you are not going to be around when the bills come due."

From the freshman perspective, Assemblyman Joel Anderson, (R-San Diego), says new legislators are up against the wall to learn everything the minute they arrive in Sacramento.

"You have to hit the ground running or die," he says. "This is one of the outcomes of term limits that people didn't think they would get."

The upside, Anderson adds, is that legislators are more engaged.

"We have a sense of expediency that forces relationships to take place and to get the people's work accomplished," Anderson says.

Unfortunately, the people's work often outlasts a six-year assembly term.





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