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POLITICAL FORECAST : Term Limits: What Would Be Changed?

October 21, 1990|Xandra Kayden | Forecast interviews were conducted by Xandra Kayden, visiting scholar, Center for Politics and Policy, Claremont Graduate School, and the author of "Surviving Power" (Free Press)

T wo propositions on California's Nov. 6 ballot would, among other things, limit the terms of statewide officeholders and state legislators. Proposition 131 would limit statewide elected officials to two consecutive four - year terms , state legislators to 12 consecutive years in office; Proposition 140 would hold Assembly members to six years in office, state senators and statewide elected officials to eight .

If either passes, or both do, what would state government be like by 1996 and thereafter? Would passage of such measures be likely to spur similar legislation in other states, or at the federal level? The Times asked six legislators and legislative specialists.

Richard L. Mountjoy, member of the state Assembly (R-Monrovia), first elected in 1978, a former general contractor who has served as mayor and city councilman of Monrovia (1968-76):

By 1996, there would be all new faces. The argument that the lobbyists would take advantage of them, I believe, is not valid.

Term limits would give the people of California more control over the Legislature, and the Legislature would be less prone to special interests, because legislators would know they are going to be there for six years and they're out.

(Term limits) would stop (politics) from being a professional occupation. For many members, that's all they've ever done--be in the Legislature, legislative staff. I think it will return the Legislature to more of a citizen-type legislator. The Legislature, right now, is controlled by those people who have a vested interest in legislation.

I came to the Legislature after eight years on the (Monrovia) City Council. I knew the system there pretty well. I knew how to get things done. I think that the legislative committee hearings are nothing more than City Council meetings on different subject matters. I think that what would happen in the Legislature is more expertise coming out of the citizenry.

I think there would be people from all walks of life. I think the age bracket would creep up a little more. Get people who have been in business. Folks who want to do it as a public service. At least it would not be dominated by professionals.

Robert Presley, state senator (D-Riverside) since 1974, formerly a member of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department for 24 years, 12 of them as undersheriff:

My guess is that in about 20 years, there would be another initiative to change (term limits) because we will have found that (they) didn't work.

The lobbyists are there for a very long time, and they become very expert in their fields . . . and will be even more influential, more powerful. They are not really accountable to anyone except their employers.

It would become clear rather quickly that you have a bunch of elected amateurs trying to run a very complex, complicated system of state government. We are not a little backwater state, anymore. We have a population of about 30 million people. We are growing at the rate of three-quarters of a million people a year, and that, alone, is hard for people to comprehend.

It is not just the numbers. It is the ethnic mix, the cultural diversity--all of those things have to be cranked in. So, governing the state of California . . . is not as easy and simple as a lot of people would think. And the other thing a lot of people seem to think is that you the governor--or you the legislator--can get up there and solve these problems tomorrow. Well, there are some of them that are almost not solvable. You have to keep trying.

Karl T. Kurtz, director of state services, National Conference of State Legislatures:

The most negative and pernicious impact of term limitations will be on the leadership of the Legislature . . . They need leaders who have a great deal of experience, skill and ability to lead and to get things done, so that they avoid the kind of stalemate we have had in Congress in recent years.

But legislatures also need strong committee chairmen, and term limits mean that relatively inexperienced people are going to be in leadership and that they are--by definition--lame ducks from the very beginning. That is probably the most negative impact.

There has been a national movement that started in California, 25 years ago, to really strengthen the role of legislatures and to make them co-equal branches of government; things like term limitations, which would restrict the power and authority of legislatures, are a step backward in that movement. It would mean that, in relative terms, the legislatures would cede more power and authority to the executive branch, to lobbyists and to legislative staff.

Mark P. Petracca, assistant professor of politics and society, UC Irvine:

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